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The Recession: A Good Time for Cause Marketing?

Nonprofits should no longer question whether to adopt cause marketing as a way to raise revenue.  Indeed, cause marketing has become an essential tool for corporations and nonprofits alike.   As more organizations have started using cause marketing, consumers have begun to expect that corporations will make support of causes central to their product line.  And, while one might expect that the recession has taken the glow off of cause-marketing deals, it has actually only increased corporate interest in them.

The rise of cause marketing was very evident at the 2009 Cause Marketing Forum held in Chicago in May, where hundreds of nonprofits, corporations, and consultants gathered to focus on the issue.  Whereas cause marketing used to be limited mostly to large nonprofits like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Children’s Miracle Network, many smaller nonprofits are now participating, such as Best Friends Animal Society, Water for People, and Give Kids the World. The titles of the attendees are changing, too:  “Director of Cause Marketing,”  “Director, Strategic Alliances,” and “Cause Marketing Manager” titles are replacing the older “Director of Development.”

Cause marketing benefits nonprofits because the dollars are often unrestricted and bring a higher return on investment than event fundraising or sponsorships.  They diversify the revenue stream for nonprofits that depend largely on traditional funding streams like donations and foundations.  And, because they originate either from corporate marketing budgets or directly from the consumer, the dollar amount to the nonprofit often dwarfs those donations made by corporate foundations.   For example, American Express raised $21 million for Share Our Strength through the “Charge Against Hunger” campaign by donating 3 cents from every credit card charge during the month of December over a period of four years.

The impact on a nonprofit’s mission can be even more impressive.  Through its Pampers diapers line, Procter and Gamble paired up with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF for the “One Pack = One Vaccine” campaign. For every specially marked pack of Pampers, the company donates 7 cents to UNICEF to help provide one tetanus vaccine to a pregnant woman or a woman of child-bearing age in a developing country.  P&G’s business objective was to align with multicultural moms in the U.S. who are responsible for 40% of U.S. births.  The results?  Consumers bought 31 million specially marked packs of diapers, and 31 million vaccines were provided to moms across the world.

We know that nonprofits love cause-marketing deals, but what about businesses?  Instead of cutting back on their cause-marketing spending during the declining economy, corporations are jumping on board with more dollars.  From Wall Street to Main Street, consumers have lost trust in corporate America.  Studies show that consumers want more than corporate accountability and ethics – they want proof that a company cares about the world beyond its own bottom line.   Ford Motor Company has found its 10-year sponsorship of Susan G. Komen for the Cure to fight breast cancer to be important to its employees and consumers, particularly during the upheaval in the automobile industry over the past year.  For an increasingly sophisticated consumer, Ford’s commitment to fighting breast cancer has to be real and lasting, and not just window-dressing to improve its corporate image.

How can nonprofit leaders take advantage of the increased interest in cause marketing?  First, they must build a competence in marketing, by hiring either experienced staff members or consultants.  An experienced cause-marketer will review the nonprofit’s assets, determining what would be attractive to a company and whether the nonprofit is ready to both sell and service accounts.  While the process of becoming “cause marketing ready” can be challenging, the long-term benefits can be extensive, both for your organization and for your mission.


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About Community Wealth Partners

At Community Wealth Partners we dream of a world in which all people thrive. To realize this dream, we help change agents solve social problems at the magnitude they exist. As a Share Our Strength organization, we bring the successful practices of one of the nation’s leading anti-hunger, anti-poverty organizations to hundreds of change agents nationwide.

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