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One Idea For Cause Marketing That Works for Small Business

Last Thursday, March 22, 2012 I took a call from a small businessperson I called Roberta who asked in effect, ‘how can my small company work with a cause to benefit us both?’ I posted about her call last Friday.

She had contacted two breast cancer charities about cause marketing; a local one I called Athena Charity and a national one I identified as Artemis Charity. (All the names have been changed). Athena put Roberta off and Artemis tried to lock her into an existing event for a cool $5,000. In my post on Friday, I compared Artemis Charity’s offerings to those from a local TV station, which are similarly high-priced and inflexible.

Neither option was well-suited to a small business like Roberta’s. Roberta has a generous impulse and she wants to help, but her ability to do so is severely limited by the size of her business. Moreover, Roberta was interested in cause marketing, in part, because she needed something more from the relationship besides good feelings.

Imagine instead a cause marketing effort that is low cost for both the cause and the small business, and yet delivers real value for both parties.

The cause carves out a piece of its Facebook page for a section called something like ‘Small Business Champions.’ For a modest fee, say a few hundred dollars to a few thousand depending on the traffic the site generates, the small business gets highlighted as one of the charities’ ‘Small Business Champions.’ The feature could be daily or weekly.

As a part of the package, the charity sends out a press release, which is basically the same as the feature. A link leads back to the business’s webpage or Facebook site. If there’s a transactional-style promotion, that too is highlighted. The feature remains on the page/site indefinitely. But like a blog post it gets displaced from top status over time, yet remains searchable. This could be a SEO strategy, too.

The small business doesn’t get to use the charity’s logos or claim to be a sponsor. And site/page is clear and transparent about what the feature is and isn’t. The charity might even say, ‘we have a lot of small businesses that come to us asking how they can help. But in the past we didn’t have a good answer for them. This helps us to engage with them in a way that works for both parties.’

I’m not a lawyer, but I think this passes the legal smell test. Facebook is free to the charities so the only costs are the press release distribution and manpower for its preparation. But if you stick to a template, you could probably use interns.

The final cost is for a customer service rep. But I think this person can be low-level, too, and run dozens if not hundreds of accounts. His or her job is to stay in touch with the featured businesses and gauge satisfaction. And, if there’s a transactional cause marketing element, they also double-check to see that the charity got paid. Finally, if the relationship is growing, the CSR needs to refer the small business to a higher-level person.

None of this works if the expenses get very high or if small businesses start demanding more than the CSR can or should deliver.

What I’m proposing here, in effect, is a farm team for charities. Like most farm teams, relatively few Small Business Champions would turn out to be future All Stars for the charity.

But, by the same token, the current system is very bad at identifying future leaders. All Artemis can currently do is find small businesses willing and able to pay $5,000 right now.

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