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Can Small Non-profits Succeed with Cause Marketing?

Lori Halley  31 August 2011  0 comments

We recently reviewed a new book – Cause Marketing for Dummies – written by Joe Waters (the Selfish Giving Blog) and Joanna MacDonald. It’s a great book, offering 316 pages of lessons, advice, inspiration and examples that will guide your cause marketing success.”

While most of us are familiar with cause marketing partnerships that involve large national companies and causes, Joe and Joanna insist that small non-profits and businesses have the same ability to execute successful cause marketing programs – they simply need someone to teach them how.

Since many of our blog readers and Wild Apricot Membership Management Software users and are small volunteer- or member-led organizations, I asked Joe to offer up some advice to small non-profits who might be wondering whether they should consider cause marketing.

Here are my questions and Joe’s answers:

What is cause marketing? How would you define it?

Cause marketing is one of those terms that means a lot of things to different people.

Some people call anything related to corporate giving cause marketing. Others think that the marketing of causes is cause marketing. But if you go back to 1983 and look at one of the very first cause marketing campaigns between American Express and the nonprofit restoring the Statue of Liberty you’ll discover what the term really means. Whenever American Express cardholders used their card, the company donated one cent to the renovation of the Statue. Those pennies added up and American Express and its cardholders contributed $1.7 million to the effort. Here’s the kicker: use of the American Express card increased 28 percent. The promotion was truly win-win. A win for American Express, a win for restoring Lady Liberty.

It’s in the spirit of this important promotion that I define cause marketing as a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit.

In the book, you suggest that “the beginnings of cause marketing programs are not so much found as they are detected.” What should organizations be looking for as a starting point?

Existing assets. Assets are things you already have that are of value to a cause marketing partnership. One of the most valuable assets is an existing connection to a company.

You might have a CEO that personally supports your cause. Do you have corporate partnership that you can leverage. Do you have a fantastic event that you can turn into cause marketing gold. Do you a huge Facebook following. We all have something we can use to kick-off a cause marketing program. Work inside out.

Finding the right partner is critical for cause marketing success. But what if a small non-profit isn’t lucky enough to have any approachable corporate board members, how do you suggest they start their partnership search?

Go to the next level and look for contacts, people that know of your mission, but are not yet supporters. (We talk about this in the book. We call them prospecting circles.) My last job was at a hospital and our contacts were vendors. Many of them weren't supporters, but they were aware of us and open to the suggestion of working together. Avoid cold calling as much as possible. Stick with warm leads - of any temperature.

How can small organizations that aren’t well-known position or sell themselves to potential partners?

I'm very familiar with this as I've worked for organizations that weren't well known. If you can't connect with businesses based on your brand recognition, you have to connect based on what you offer, your marketing benefits. We beat out many a nonprofit because we had a better package to offer. It's not always about the cause. That's why they call it cause marketing.

If, as you say in the book, “the future of cause marketing is inextricably bound to an emerging technology,” what advice do you have for small non-profits that aren’t social media savvy yet?

Get busy. You can learn from my blog and book, but there is literally a ton of info out there on how to succeed with emerging technologies. The best piece of advice I can give is simple: USE IT. People want to learn about Twitter, but never send tweets. They talk of using Foursquare but never check-in to their favorite coffee shop. You want to understand social media? You won't find it in a book. You have to use it. Doing otherwise is like trying to learn how to drive without ever getting behind the wheel.

But how can small and medium nonprofits cut through the noise of huge cause marketers like the Susan G. Komen Foundation?

Local nonprofits actually have two advantages over large nonprofits like Komen. First, 2010 research out of Cone, a Boston cause marketing firm, suggests that consumers are gravitating to more local causes and are expecting companies to follow suit. Second, social media can help level the marketing playing field between small and large nonprofits. Social media is a competitive edge for nonprofits that know how to put it to work for their business partners that are increasingly interested in location-based and hyperlocal marketing.

Finally - what’s the key point you want to make to small non-profits that might be considering a cause marketing program?

You can do it! But you need to educate yourself, be realistic about what cause marketing can and can't do and be willing to try and fail before you succeed.

Have you tried a cause marketing program?  If you're a small non-profit we'd love to hear about your cause marketing experience in the comments below.

Lori Halley

Posted by Lori Halley

Published Wednesday, 31 August 2011 at 9:00 AM
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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