Things to Consider When Choosing a Cause Related Marketing Program

The fact that your primary assets are invisible doesn’t make them any less attractive to corporations seeking word of mouth brand loyalty.  Your good name and trust among your members make your network into a goldmine for customer acquisition.  When financial profit exists as the bottom line for a company, using your cause as bait for customers can produce a host of unintended consequences and dissatisfaction over time.

On the other hand, cause related marketing can be very helpful in raising funds for your organization and even strengthen your social capital through the shared benefit of a successful Take care to research the motives, nature and practices of any company that seeks to partner with you. Below are some factors to consider.

Transparency.  How open and clear is the corporate partner about what amount of profit from cause related sales will be committed to your organization? Any company operating a credible cause marketing program will respond to requests for information and be able to answer specific questions about amount and accounting of funds used for charitable causes.

Pricing.  Does the company market cause related products at a different price than the same product sells through other outlets?  Sometimes a product will be sold at “list price” when customer referral comes through a charitable organization while selling the product at “discounted” prices through other channels.   This effectively makes the customer pay extra to cover any donation to their nonprofit cause.

Quality.  Don’t offer your members an inferior quality product in order to receive income for your budget.  Members may feel obligated to purchase the product and associate any problems they experience in product performance or customer service with your organization.  Although you may not formally endorse any product or company using your name for cause marketing, there is an implicit understanding by most members that you have researched the product and would not encourage members to make a poor consumer purchase.

Compatibility.  Is the product and company compatible with your organizations goals and values?  An animal welfare organization, for instance, will not want to allow a skin care product to use their name if the company uses lab animals for testing products.  An agency working for the benefit of children will not want to use a company that targets children with junk food or foods and high sugar content or deals in tobacco products.

Marketing.  What marketing methods will be used in public or targeted advertising?  You will not want your membership to be hounded by aggressive emails or phone calls.  Don’t allow the use of guilt or pressure by a company to make sales.  Marketing should be clear about benefits to your organization and choice of members to participate without pressure.  Marketing must be honest and should be effective enough to make any partnership profitable for your cause.  Reserve the right to approve any advertising campaigns.

Integrity.  The importance of integrity is related to other concerns on this list.  It is a good filter to apply to every step in a cause related marketing process.  Trust is your most valuable asset.  It can be quickly eroded if suspicions arise about any communication, motive or practice that violates common expectations of honesty, respect and fairness.  The primary values, history, recommendations and practices of the corporate partner in other areas (customer service, employee relations, advertising, etc) may give you valid clues about integrity.

Effectiveness.  Will the benefit to your organization be significant enough to justify a cause related marketing campaign?  Are there restrictions, qualifications or requirements that limit the amount your cause will receive?  If the corporation has used caused related marketing before, what were the results?  What projection does the corporation make for expected income and funding for your cause?  Is there any guaranteed donation to your organization for the right to use your name in marketing?

Expectations.  What work is expected from your organization?  Will time be required of staff, board, administration or volunteers to conduct the marketing project?  Does the marketing organization expect to have access to your membership, donor or contact  list?  Do not commit to a marketing process that would divert energy or time away from your primary mission.

Follow-Through.  Be sure that the corporate partner will supply detailed reports on a regular basis as well as a final report of all partner activity and income.  Reports should be available to your members on request. Evaluation by your board will determine if cause related marketing is right for your organization or if changes need to be made for future marketing projects.

With all these concerns and ways that cause related marketing could fail or harm your cause, should you consider using it as a fundraising opportunity?

Yes. With government funding, private grants and individual donations declining while social needs increase, cause related marketing continues to hold great potential for directing corporate profits to your cause.  Because it is connected with corporate sales and profits generated through association with your cause, income can be predictable and sustainable rather than being dependent on the decision of others or their ability to make a donation.

But do your homework on any cause related marketing opportunity.  Executed properly, it can be profitable for your organization and the corporate partner.  Benefit to your organization may extend far beyond financial income to include connection with the community, awareness of your mission, staff and volunteer cohesion.  A significant sustainable source of income that requires little time or effort can be an encouragement to everyone in your organization and fund your mission budget.