By Alyssa Gregory

Everyone Wins with Cause Marketing

By Alyssa Gregory

cause marketingYesterday, I introduced a series of posts that I will be doing this week on four marketing strategies and how you can apply them to your own marketing activities for a bigger impact. The first type of marketing we will be focusing on is cause marketing.

What is Cause Marketing?

Cause marketing, or cause-related marketing, refers to marketing that involves a partnership between a business and a non-profit organization. Typically, the business ties its marketing strategy to the fundraising needs of a charitable cause for the benefit of both parties. Cause marketing goes beyond one-time charitable donations, and can involve active participation on the part of the business.

Cause Marketing Background

Although there were marketing campaigns that involved partnerships between corporations and charitable organizations before 1983, this was the year that American Express coined the term “cause-related marketing.” The company had undertaken a marketing campaign for the Statue of Liberty Restoration project. During the highly successful campaign, each time a cardholder charged an item, American Express donated a penny toward restoring the Statue of Liberty. In four months, more than $2 million was raised for the project.


Benefits of Cause Marketing

The purpose of cause marketing is to increase exposure and awareness for both the for-profit business and the non-profit organization. When cause marketing is effective, some of the benefits you can expect include:

  • An increase in brand loyalty
  • A boost in employee morale
  • An increase in sales
  • Positive press coverage and company reviews
  • Differentiation from the competition

One of the biggest potential benefits is a more favorable public reputation. In fact, studies have shown that most consumers say they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand were associated with a good cause.

Of course, the non-profit stands to benefit from cause marketing as well. They have the opportunity to expand awareness of the cause, increasing fundraising and public support.

Potential Drawbacks

While cause marketing revolves around benefiting a charitable cause, it’s not without disadvantages. One major disadvantage can occur if public perception of the relationships sours. For example, your reputation can be harmed if your target audience sees your alignment with a non-profit as a marketing ploy. You can also face problems if the non-profit you are supporting does something unethical or controversial. Then you run the risk of being perceived negatively as well.

Lastly, cause marketing isn’t investment-free. When you undertake a cause marketing campaign, you’re adding a financial and/or time investment to your regular marketing activity tab. Depending on how you’re supporting the cause, this can be a significant expense.

Cause Marketing In Your Business

Since cause marketing involves partnering with a charitable organization and doing something marketing-worthy, you need to think in terms of what your business does or sells and how you can tie it into the goals of a non-profit.

What a small business can do within cause marketing varies greatly from what a large corporation can do, but the concept is the same. And whichever cause-related activity you choose, the key is to work it into your marketing campaigns to increase awareness. Here are some ideas to get you thinking in terms of doing good for the good of your business.

  • Join a structured giving campaign like 1% for the Planet that helps you donate a set percentage of sales to a charitable cause
  • Launch a co-branded marketing campaign with a local non-profit for an upcoming event
  • Pick a charity and add a “make a donation” option to your checkout process
  • Adopt a local cause and provide pro bono design work to solidify their own marketing efforts

Have you considered using cause marketing? What other ideas do you have for freelancers who want to make a difference?

For more information on cause marketing:

Image credit: jellofishy

  • jeddy

    From our experience, it’s definitely a win-win situation. You don’t need to shell out a crap load of money to make cause marketing work for your business. You just need to be creative. Cause marketing can come in many ways and opportunities to give back sometimes comes up in unexpected places. Here’s how we did it: http://blog.lethbridgewebdesign.ca/a-win-win-win-win-situation — The word of mouth we received from our initiative was amazing. We were even given props in our local newspaper. To this day, we still have random people coming up to us telling us about that ‘thing on the wall we put up’. An important element from that initiative was our call for challenges from other businesses “to not only match, but beat our contribution” which then opened up the opportunity for others to “ride” the campaign and increase awareness for both the cause and the participating businesses giving back.

  • @CharityChoice

    Alyssa concise clear article defining Cause Marketing.Cause marketing can be a win win for both non-profits and business and it’s not just for the big guys. There is a newer tool to use that can address Cause Marketings “Potential Drawbacks”. Charity Gift Cards.(www.ccgiftcards.org) By empowering the consumer with a charity choice you can build a relationship that says not only do we want to give back but we want it to be a choice truly close to your heart.
    Basic premise is you designate the funds,create a free branded business page and the recipients can choose up to 3 charities to donate to from over 100. Other Custom options too. Readers, do you think the customers in your industry would be grateful to receive a charity choice?

  • @jeddy – Great example of cause marketing. Sounds like you had fantastic results. Thanks for sharing that!

  • Thank you for sharing your article. Marketing doesn’t need a lot of experience by end users. All you need to be is creative. Ive done marketing myself without any experience and succeeded. With reference to my website http://www.pctechoutlet.com

  • Cause-Marketing is a fantastic idea – It’s a win win situation for business and nonprofits.

  • James Todd

    Cause marketing is a great way to separate your business from the clutter. Plus you will attract potential customers supportive of the cause. You should look for a cause related to your business if possible as well as make sure the cause does not bring a “negative vibe” to your business.

    For example, if you are a coaching business why not support local teens and help them learn business.

    James Todd
    Publisher: BuildMySiteforFree.com

  • Ravedesigns

    Kudos to Jeddy for really thinking outside the traditional marketing box here – but outside of increased “awareness” – did you see an actual increase in your business? In this example the low cost certainly seems reasonable whether you profit immediately from it or not – but the main problem with most of the marketing tactics here is that you can’t track their performance and have no idea if your spending is making or costing you money. Branding and awareness is great when you have money to burn…but when your survival depends on making a profit…I think more businesses can benefit from direct response marketing than the typical image advertising that most businesses engage in. :-)

  • Megan Strand

    Thanks for a great article raising awareness on an important component to any business strategy. We’re fortunate to live in a world where the dynamics and priorities are shifting from pure-profit-at-all-costs to one that includes community responsibility.

    Recent consumer studies show that consumers not only want companies to act responsibly, but expect them to, even going so far as to change buying habits to support companies with a conscious.

    There are so many ways companies can use cause marketing to authentically promote their own brand and a worthy cause. It doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.

    I recently did a blog post citing just a few of the reasons it’s important to built consumer trust and a few important statistics small businesses will want to read.

    Would love any feedback!

    Keep up the great work!


  • jacqueline

    I love this! I have been advocating that small businesses get engaged in cause marketing to build community and deepen their vision of their place in the market. I recently wrote two blog posts that talk about easy, effective ways for small businesses to get on the cause marketing bandwagon! http://goodwolve.blogs.com/moxieworks/2010/02/small-business-cause-marketing-tips.html I love your take on the potential drawbacks – it has to be giving without being a ploy – consumers can see that a mile away!

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.