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Cause Marketing: Finding Opportunities In Objectives

By The NonProfit Times - June 29, 2011

It’s not just enough nowadays to have a transactional cause marketing campaign that donates a percentage or dollar amount of a purchase to a nonprofit organization. Not only do these types of donations amount to little in terms of long-term growth, but also tremendously difficult to convert these one-time donors into long-time supporters of your organization.

Describing her organization as “small and mighty,” Sherri Wood, president and national coordinator of the San Francisco, Calif.-based, One Warm Coat, said that her organization rarely does advertising or marketing pitches, yet was able to win a 2007 Gold Halo Award for Best National/Local integration of a cause marketing campaign.

Providing organizational resources to parties seeking to set up a coat drive in their community, through corporate partnerships with retail giants Burlington Coat Factory, Aéropostale and Old Navy, the six-person nonprofit has donated more than 2.5 million coats to people in need and hopes to reach 3 million by the fall.

Wood credits this success to a reconfiguration on how the nonprofit views cause marketing. “Cause marketing is not philanthropy,” said Wood. “There has to be a business reason for a corporate partnership. Sometimes nonprofits don’t realize that. It really needs to be based on a business model. It is important to ask yourself, what are you going to be offering to the corporation through your relationship?”

In a new report entitled “(im)Proving Cause,” authors Timothy R. Tlusty, Diane Knoepke and Shan Riggs of Chicago, Ill.-based IEG, address the changes that need to be made in defining cause marketing. Instead of doing simple transactional campaigns they argue, nonprofits and corporations need to find opportunities within one another’s objectives to form a mutually beneficial partnership.

In addition to transactional campaigns failing, programs like the Pepsi Refresh Project and the American Express Members Project are able to draw out the benefits of having a partnership with dozens of organizations, without having an actual one-to-one relationship with any of them.

David Hessekiel, president and founder of the Rye, N.Y.-based Cause Marketing Forum (CMF), said that nonprofits need to be inventive and creative in integrating corporate sponsorships.

“In the past, it was just about attention grabbing,” said Hessekiel. “Now more and more nonprofits have adapted this tactic but this does not cause headlines anymore. Society has come to expect that companies will get engaged with citizens and incorporate cause related programs in their brand.”

Using a traditional transactional cause marketing campaign with a twist, the Starlight Children’s Foundation was able engage donors for the long term as well as assisting their corporate partner appeal to a specific demographic.

With global headquarters in Los Angeles, Calif., the organization that improves the quality of life for children with terminal illnesses partnered with Park Lane Jewelry in developing a “Starlight bracelet,” donating $2 for every bracelet sold to the foundation.

Jenny Isaacson, vice president of brand marketing and communications, said that when evaluating corporate sponsorships she begins with making sure the partnership is a “strategic fit.”

“I’m much more intent on listening during these types of meetings,” she said. “I tend to put people on the spot and ask them to be specific. There is nothing wrong with communicating a definite return on investment (ROI). I always ask them to tell me the top three goals they hope to get out of the relationships.”

Since 2008, the partnership has resulted in $70,000 of revenue for the foundation, in addition to using Park Lane’s affiliates to appeal to demographics all over the country. With developing communication that is able to pinpoint where exactly their donation is going in their own community, long-term relationships are formed with these donors.

Making sure this relationship is mutually beneficial is the challenge many nonprofits face, said Hessekiel.

“Nonprofits have to figure out how to develop an arsenal of value that they can bring to a corporation that will make them so attractive that the partner will build a robust program that will generate resources, add value to the company and be sustainable for everyone,” said Hessekiel.

With a 92 percent sponsorship rate, Gail Cunningham, senior vice president of the Stamford, Conn.-based Keep America Beautiful (KAB), says that what makes their cause marketing campaigns unique is their selection of corporations that represent social responsibility that works to fulfill their mission.

Having 580 affiliate groups, that organization looks to corporations most of the time as a way to provide in-kind contributions, resources these affiliates can work with.

“When looking at a potential relationship,” said Cunningham, “we look to see if our efforts can bolster our affiliates nationwide. They need to have resources they donate as in kind. Through cause event marketing and integrating marketing we can leverage that relationship to make sure it is a mutually beneficial one."

Working with Marysville, Ohio-based ScottsMiracle-Gro Company specifically, KAB is assisting them in GRO100 , the construction of 1,000 community gardens across the United States. Many of these gardens will be located in affiliates’ communities, not only fulfilling nationwide nonprofit objectives but local ones as well, having a cause that impacts 65 percent of the country.

"When we are invited to develop a merchandising programs we want to make sure the consumer is supporting something that impacts their home, having an impression on their communities," said Cunningham.

Hessekiel talked about “these complex, long standing relationships” are now the norm adding, “businesses now see they can adapt a generalized cause and not make the nonprofit the hero.”

To preserve these relationships and make sure they’re not short lived, investment needs to be made into nonprofit’s own staff. It is not simply enough to have a development person selling corporations on a program, said Hessekiel.

Using complex, integrated programs won’t be as successful without a staff dedicated to serving the needs of the partnership. Prophesying on the future of cause marketing, Hessekiel echoed the concerns of IEG on a heavy reliance of transactional programs.

“The simple short-term transactional program is something that has become incredibly difficult to hit a home run with,” said Hessekiel. “It’s become important to build a more robust program integrated in the corporation that is authentic and transparent. The mixing of values with value is not going away.”    

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