What Cause Marketing in Hell Looks Like

As a part of my occasional series of posts on the results of cause marketing efforts, today we turn to a guest donation program in the national parks, which, a press account says, generated nearly $1 million in 2012.

The money was used for “priority park programs.” The donations are generated basically when the 638 concessioners at the 401 national park areas… at their discretion… allow guests to add $1 to their lodging bill per night stayed. In other words, it’s an add-a-dollar effort.

As I did some research to drill down on this effort I was astonished at what I learned. First of all, 279 million people visited the parks in 2011, suggesting something less that one out of every 279 visits led to a $1 donation. Not bad when you consider that not every one of those 279 million visitors stayed a night in a participating concessioner’s room.

The next surprising thing is that the National Park Guest Donation Program was piloted at 12 national parks over the course of three years in the early 2000s, including some the most iconic: Yosemite; Grand Canyon; Everglades; and Yellowstone.

Imagine that, a three-year pilot of an add-a-dollar fundraiser.

If you’ve worked for a nonprofit and ever complained about the glacially-slow pace of decision making, be glad that you don’t work for the nonprofit that owns Glacier National Park!

The other thing I turned up is in a similar vein. The National Park Service issued a 63-page “Reference Guide to Director’s Order #21 Donations and Fundraising.” If you’re a veteran fundraiser or cause marketer you might think that that’s an especially fulsome fundraising guidebook to help local park superintendents raise some much need funds.

And you’d be wrong. Instead, it’s 63-pages of bloodless prose about where partner donation boxes may be placed, how to answer the phone when a prospective corporate sponsor calls, and the “suggested” wording of the letter from the Park Service to be placed in the rooms of lodgings that offer the Guest Donation Program:
“Your support of this program is appreciated, but if you prefer not to participate, simply notify us at any time during your stay and we will remove this donation from your room account. [Provide phone extension, a check-off card that can be left in the room or at the front desk or some specific means of indicating that they do not want to participate].”
C.S. Lewis wrote, “My symbol for Hell is something like [a] bureaucracy.” If that’s true, the National Park Service has a preview here on earth of what cause marketing looks like in hell.

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