With twenty years of experience, six nonprofit gigs, one blog, 1,500 posts,  two books, hundreds of presentations and 140 podcasts, you could call me the Pied Piper of cause marketing.

For the record, I define cause marketing as a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit. Here are a few other things you should know about the practice.

Cause marketing is win-win. The nonprofit raises money and awareness for its mission. For a business, cause marketing enhances its favorability with employees, customers and other stakeholders. The reward is more loyal stakeholders that “buy-in” to the company and boost the bottom-line.

Cause marketing is work-work. Cause marketing partnerships are work-work, which means neither partner gets a free ride. The nonprofit doesn’t get a check in the mail that it wasn’t expecting, and the for-profit doesn’t write one expecting to be off the hook for yet another year.

Good partnerships between a nonprofit and for-profit are engaging, ongoing and valued.  

Cause marketing has plenty of fans and detractors. On the one hand it’s a new source of revenue for most organizations. Cause marketing has helped some large organizations raise millions of dollars. Smaller organizations can easily raise five or six figures. On the other, some of its tactics are poster children for bad behavior – both from nonprofits and companies.

The number one question I get from nonprofits is how they can get started with cause marketing. It can be as easy as 1-2-3.

Step #1: Uncover Your Assets

Remember how I said earlier that cause marketing is win-win because both partners benefit from it? Well, mutual benefit doesn’t happen by itself, unfortunately. It needs to be detected, mined and molded. It all starts by uncovering a little gold.

The gold in cause marketing is having something that businesses want, something they value.

Does your nonprofit have a strong brand that has wide and deep awareness in your service area? Eureka, you’ve struck gold!

Does your nonprofit have a strong emotional message that will resonate with businesses and consumers? Congratulations, the miners of forty-niner would be proud of you!

Does your nonprofit have a large event that caters to a powerful demographic (e. g. women, moms, millennials) or an affluent one? No one will mistake that for fool’s gold!

What gold will you find? Truthfully, it’s not so much found as it is detected. One nonprofit I worked with thought they had nothing but lead. But a quick scan of their board of directors uncovered a board member who owned a large retail chain. When I asked the executive director about him she replied that she knew he had money but hadn’t thought to ask where he made it!

Some people don’t know what gold looks like.

Step #2: Identify a Partner

I’m often asked what’s the best kind of partner for cause marketing. “The one you have,” I reply. Like my nonprofit client showed above, partners can also be assets, meaning they already support you in some way (e.g. sponsorship, CEO gift, board participation, etc.). You just need to adapt the relationship for cause marketing.

If you don’t have a natural partner, you’ll need to lean more on your other assets to find the right company. Here’s what to look for: consumer facing companies (e. g. department stores, restaurants, supermarkets) with as many locations and as much foot traffic as possible. Trust me on this one. More locations and traffic will raise you more money and increase your chances for a successful program.

Start by approaching companies with whom you’ve had a prior relationship and have supported your mission. If you come up empty-handed, focus on companies with whom you’ve had contact in some way. Having worked at several hospitals, I know firsthand that vendors can be a great place to start.

Finally, if all else fails, you can shop your assets to new companies (a.k.a cold calling). For example, I used to run a large Halloween event in Boston that drew a demographic businesses love: families. I identified companies that targeted this demographic and soon added a chain of family restaurants and fast lube centers as partners.

If you’ve done a good job identifying and leveraging your assets, you’ll eventually land a good cause marketing partner. Now you need to decide what type of program to execute with them.

Step #3: Pick a Program

There are many types of cause marketing programs to choose from, but you should start with either a point-of-sale or a purchase-triggered donation program.

Point-of-sale happens at checkout when the shopper has his or her wallet out. It can range from something passive like a coin canister to charity pinups cashiers sell for a buck or two.

Purchase-triggered donations are products and services shoppers can buy from which a percentage or portion benefits a cause. On World Aids Day, for example, Starbucks donates five cents from every drink sold to Product (RED) to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Transactional cause marketing that raises money and builds awareness for your nonprofit isn’t complicated when you break the process down into its most critical steps.

After knowing what cause marketing is, you need to understand what assets you have that companies want. Finally, you need to choose a cause marketing program that fits the business and raises the most money.

Have a question? Ask away in the comments below.

Joe Waters

Joe Waters

Cause Marketing Expert at Selfish Giving
Joe Waters shows do-gooders, nonprofits and businesses how to create win-win partnerships that raise money, build stakeholder loyalty and change the world. Joe writes the web’s leading cause marketing blog Selfish Giving. He also co-hosts CauseTalk Radio, a weekly cause marketing podcast. His latest book is Fundraising with Businesses: 40 New (and Improved) Strategies for Nonprofits. Joe is based in Massachusetts and has a wicked Boston accent.
Joe Waters
Joe Waters
Joe Waters

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