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One-Issue Cause Marketing Promotions

Little Mac, an Asian elephant at the Santa Barbara Zoo, had dental problems and wasn’t able to chew her food properly. In fixing her teeth, the zoo’s dental bill quickly ballooned past an elephantine $100,000, which wasn’t easy for the zoo to swallow. That's her and her dentist at the left.

But if you have a cell phone and special place in your heart for pachyderms you can help the zoo meet its obligations.

Simply text ‘MAC’ to 20222 and $10 will be added to your cell phone bill. Proceeds will specifically benefit Little Mac’s dental care.

Little Mac’s tale of dental woe makes for a good story, but it raises the thorny issue of whether or not to use a cause marketing promotion for just a single issue.

On the one hand, you can see why the zoo was keen to use cell phone fundraising to cover an unexpected bill. Moreover, for donors, fixing the teeth of an animal that eats hundreds of pounds a day is immediate, concrete, and easy to understand.

But, on the other hand, one of the appeals of cause marketing for charities is that because it often comes in pennies at a time, you don’t have to play that game whereby you have to earmark donations where the donor designates. Most cause marketing dollars go to wherever a cause’s board and staff think the money is best spent.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, causes often chase dollars from donors even when what the donor is willing to fund doesn’t make sense for the charity’s mission. The result is that in nonprofit fundraising the tail sometimes wags the dog.

I’ve used this example before: If I let it be known that I had $10 million for a cause to go chase Bigfoot, I can promise you that I’d hear from more than just Bigfoot-chasing charities.

How do cause marketers strike a balance? I’d say that the Santa Barbara Zoo has found it.

Trigger a one-issue cause marketing promotion only when the need is pressing, one-time, and solvable.


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