Between Selfish Giving and Doing Good: 7 Tips for Authentic Cause Marketing

Guest Post by Judy Dunn

Cause marketing. American Express coined the word in 1983 with its campaign to raise funds for the Statue of Liberty’s facelift. But have you noticed what’s been going on lately? The big companies have figured something out. They know we want cool stuff—all the latest products—but we need to feel good about having them. That we like getting what we want and helping someone else at the same time.


Take businesses that support the fight against AIDS. Recently GAP’s red t-shirt promotion said something like this (paraphrased):

"It’s hot. It’s hip. Oh, and by the way, part of the money goes to find a cure for AIDS."

Or Sprint and its mobile phone (paraphrased):

"Help us fight AIDS in Africa. But wait. You’ll also get an elegant red cellphone, just in case saving lives wasn’t enough."

When Cause Marketing Works

Cause marketing is defined as a special relationship between a business and a charity that benefits both. Companies can make their customers feel good, get the sale, and promote a worthy cause all at the same time.

But I like to think there’s more going on. Something bigger. In this new world of transparency, cause marketing also lets your customers see the real you—and what you stand for. There’s incredible value in that. Here’s how to do it with authenticity, so your customers know it’s about more than making more sales:

1. Choose a cause that lights you up.

What do you go on and on about until people’s eyes glaze over? For me, it’s kids and education. For a hair salon, maybe it’s knowing part of their revenue goes to Locks of Love, a nonprofit that makes wigs for cancer victims. For a restaurant, donating to a hunger charity. Whatever you decide, though, make it something you care deeply about. Because you can’t fake passion.

2. Consider what matters to your customers.

Does the cause strike a chord with them? As a B2B business, we know our clients care about the quality of education our young people, their future employees, get. Giving a corporate gift to support a nonprofit’s youth mentoring program shows a commitment to that mission and our passion. So does taking students in job shadowing experiences. Or giving copywriting and design services for an annual report or charity auction program.

3. Do your homework.

The nonprofit you support is a reflection on you and your brand’s reputation. Research things like their overhead percentages —how much of the money they raise actually goes to the people they serve— accomplishments, and the credibility of executive and board members. At, you’ll find 6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating.

4. Match your resources with the nonprofit’s needs.

It’s about more than writing a check. Give services and products. Serve on the nonprofit’s board. Get involved in a project. At our company, we gave employees travel time and one hour a week to mentor an at-risk child. Balance your skills and capacity with the charity’s biggest needs.

5. Start small and set reasonable goals.

If you are a small business, stay away from the huge Red Cross-type nonprofits. Instead, find

a local organization you can get excited about. Measure one or two objectives in the first year. For example, monitor the dollar value of your in-kind donations. Or. if your goal is to increase your profile as a business citizen, track the number of partnership messages and updates communicated to your customers. At year’s end, evaluate your progress.

6. Talk it up.

One of the most common mistakes is not spending enough time, money, and energy on promotion. Successful partnerships have a commitment to getting the word out. Cross-promote with reciprocal website links, blog posts, and articles in each other’s newsletters.

7. Be smart with social media.

Your website and blog are great places to promote the partnership. But don’t go on Twitter and indiscriminately ask for donations. Most people need to know more than a tweet that says, "Donate to XYZ and help buy school supplies for kids." Instead, tweet a single fact, a snippet, a quote, or an update. It’s like every other kind of marketing. If you provide value, you’ll build credibility.

About the Author: Judy Dunn is a blogging coach and social media copywriter at Cat’s Eye Writer, helps small business owners market in fresh ways and communicate their core messages with a unique voice. For more free marketing advice, sign up for her weekly etips and get blogging advice at Cat’s Eye Writer.

For updates on new articles: Receive The Marketing Spot by Email or Get The Marketing Spot in a blog reader

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software