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The Appeal of Franchises for Cause Marketers

Cause marketing is almost always directed at consumers. So in North America one place you can be all but certain to find cause marketing is at retail franchise outlet.

 The ten largest franchise systems, ranked according to worldwide sales volume as ranked by Franchise Times follow. Where known I’ve added the cause with which each franchise system is most publicly affiliated.
  1. McDonald’s… Ronald McDonald House Charities
  2. 7-Eleven… Muscular Dystrophy Association
  3. KFC … KFC Colonel’s Scholars, et al
  4. Burger King… various
  5. Subway Restaurants… American Heart Association
  6. Ace Hardware… Children’s Miracle Network
  7. Circle K Stores… United Cerebral Palsy
  8. Pizza Hut…Book It, et al
  9. Wendy’s… Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
  10. Marriott Hotels, Resorts & Suites… Children’s Miracle Network.
It’s not surprising that consumer-oriented franchises would tend to have a cause marketing focus. Academic research consistently finds that corporate social responsibility makes good business sense for businesses that target the consumer market. Cause marketing has also been found to help preserve pricing power and to positively affect how consumers perceive product performance.

But doing cause marketing campaigns with franchises ain’t always easy.

One reason is that local franchisees have autonomy. If a McDonald's franchisee in Albuquerque, New Mexico wants to support the nearby Ronald McDonald House, he probably doesn't have to. Although he’d certainly get plenty of pressure to do so from the local McDonald's owner's group. I've been told that one of the main reasons why the once narrowly-focused Ronald McDonald House became the broader-focused Ronald McDonald House Charities is because owners and owner's groups wanted to be able to support their own 'pet' causes.

Go down the Franchise Times list and you'll find plenty of franchise systems that don't have a cause affiliation. It's a prospect list for charities, in other words.

For charities you need to ask yourself the following before you start making phone calls:
  • Does my cause have the breadth of appeal that can attract a franchise and its franchisees?
  • Is there a 'fit'?
  • Are the target franchise systems close enough to consumers to be able to ask for money/support?
  • Can I get the support of powerful individual franchisees?
  • Can I physically support the efforts of franchises that may be spread out across the continent?
  • Can I put into place a mechanism for collecting money?
  • Do I have the wherewithal to promote the relationship in the media, social and otherwise?
  • How will I recognize and reward the achievements of individual franchisees?
  • If there are materials to distribute, does the franchisor have an effective way to deliver them?
  • When selling your charity to the franchise system, does the franchisor have an efficient way for me to get in front of the individual franchisees?

For franchisees and franchise systems, the questions you have to ask of would-be charity partners are almost a mirror image:
  • Does the charity's mission have broad appeal?
  • Will your customers know who anything about the charity?
  • Is what your customers know about the cause good?
  • Do they have any unexplained scandals in their past?
  • Does the charity have unique appeal?
  • Does the charity have the support of influential franchisees or systems?
  • Will your customers and franchisees understand the 'fit'?
  • Does the charity fulfill its mission well?
  • Are they efficient with their resources?
  • Is the relationship or any of the elements promotable in the various forms of media?
  • Can they help you with promotions?
  • Do you have budget to help them produce and distribute campaign materials?
  • Do they have boots on the ground in the markets most important to you?
  • How will they acknowledge and reward the franchisee's efforts?
Retail franchises are ripe for cause campaigns because consumers expect them. But make sure you have good answers to the questions above before heading into cause marketing relationships.

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