What is Cause Related Marketing?

Let’s Start With the Cause Related Marketing Definition

…from our friends at Wikipedia!

Cause marketing or cause-related marketing refers to a type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. The term is sometimes used more broadly and generally to refer to any type of marketing effort for social and other charitable causes, including in-house marketing efforts by non-profit organizations. Cause marketing differs from corporate giving (philanthropy), as the latter generally involves a specific donation that is tax-deductible, while cause marketing is a marketing relationship not necessarily based on a donation.”

Cause Related Marketing Examples

The world of cause related marketing is more complex than just looking for a grant from the corporate social responsibility department or a golf tournament hole sponsor. In fact, all elements of full service fundraising are present within the cause related marketing space along with some opportunities that are unique to this type of fundraising. In this post we are going to take a comprehensive look at the opportunities awaiting the cause related marketing specialist or fundraising generalist, this article is packed with unique fundraising ideas…though they require some work.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of revenue that are available within the world of cause related marketing in detail below.

Seven Types of Cause Related Marketing Campaigns

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

This is typically the first stop for most cause related marketing professionals and most folks fairly new to working with corporate partners. Corporate Social Responsibility is similar to grant giving in that it is application based and typically measures outcomes in terms of community impact. Corporate Social Responsibility grants are a great way to get into the world of cause related marketing but only scratches the surface! This type of funding is usually highly restricted and highly competitive.

That said, just because you trigger the gift with an application doesn’t mean that you can get away with anything other than a relationship-based approach. Competition is fierce and virtually every Corporate Social Responsibility manager, director and VP I speak with tells me that they prefer a discovery call or meeting to an unsolicited application and multi-page proposal.

You know you are likely going to be talking Corporate Social Responsibility when you encounter the following in a job title: Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Relations, Corporate Reputation, Community Outreach or anything related to the corporate foundation. Be ready to answer questions about community impact, how you measure outcomes as well as recognition opportunities.

Corporate Sponsorship and Cause Related Marketing

Sponsorship is something most charities, associations and sport teams are familiar with and something I’ve written about extensively on my blog…and with a name like The Sponsorship Collective, I suppose we’d better know what we’re talking about!

When most people ask how to get sponsorship money, the answer is usually through events. People often overlook direct program funding when seeking sponsorship, which can lead to deeper, less transactional relationships with your corporate partners. Unlike CSR dollars, sponsorship is often completely unrestricted.

When you want to talk sponsorship, look for people with the following in their job title: Marketing, Brand, Sponsorship, Product and Business Development and be ready to talk marketing and to build a highly customized sponsorship package.

Corporate Fundraising Events

Third party events are not that dissimilar to in-house events except that they are run entirely by your corporate partners. You partner covers the costs, finds attendees and sponsors and then they cut you a cheque. Not a bad deal considering how expensive it is to run events!

Corporate events have all kinds of benefits that go beyond dollars in the bank. They are great for building your brand within an organization, engaging employees, engaging vendors and other relationships of your corporate partner and they give your charity a chance to show off the great work you do.

These events typically move around from charity to charity, chosen by a committee which may turnover regularly (the infamous “one and done” approach). These events can also draw heavily on your volunteer resources. A trend I have noticed in this space is that the lines between in-house and third party events are blurring. In other words, the charity is expected to drive ticket sales, sponsorship or auction items and in some cases, hold the costs and revenue from the event. This can be problematic because the charity is not involved in the budget or decision-making process around the event but still required to provide significant resources.

The types of people you should expect to work with here is a mixed bag and can include anyone from senior executives to internal committees to junior staff looking to build their resumes. If you are talking third party events, expect to talk about your cause, how you can support an event, your volunteer resources and ability to sell tickets or close sponsors.

The Original Cause Related Marketing Definition:
Product Sales!

This is the classic, narrow definition of “cause related marketing” and what most people think of when they hear the terms, especially if they started in the cause marketing space space more than 10 years ago. Cause related marketing is a huge umbrella term covering everything in this article but when I started, cause related marketing meant product sales and only product sales…and maybe the odd pin up campaign. I suspect this timeline is slightly different for my American readers who are slightly ahead of the game (and doing some very cool stuff!).

This is the classic “buy this house, chocolate bar, car, coffee and we will donate $X to charity X.” I love these campaigns! There I said it. Huge moneymakers, engagement tools and brand builders and, while a ton of work, worth every hour invested (when done well). Rather than referring to this as cause marketing I prefer the generic term “product sales” so as to differentiate from the other types of corporate fundraising. Some campaigns can be very hands off, others can be driven entirely by the charity and both styles have their pros and cons.

When you are hoping to talk product sales campaigns, look for people in the marketing, brand and product side. You will also find yourself working with communications and marketing companies as intermediaries and account managers between you and the company. In fact, I have worked on campaigns where I never once met an employee from the host company- everything was done with a PR/communications company.

“Pin up” Cause Related Marketing Campaigns

If product sales campaigns are my favourite types of cause related marketing examples then the pin up campaign is a close second. These campaigns are called “pin up” campaigns and basically involve a retailer asking if you want to donate $X to a charity in exchange for a paper symbol to write your name on and “pin up” around the store. Other versions include physically buying a discounted can of cat food that your pet store will give to a shelter or some other related product.

These campaigns get staff connected to the cause and get customers connecting the retailer’s brand to the charity in question so these campaigns offer a bonus employee engagement opportunity as well. It can be tricky keeping all staff on message and capable of answering questions from customers and, aside from the logistics of designing, printing and delivering a few hundred thousand paper pin ups across the city or country…these campaigns are simple and a ton of fun.

Because “the ask” is very small and based on scale these campaigns have been described by some as recession proof. In fact, I worked on two major campaigns in 2008/2009 and saw our pin up campaign revenue go up while every other type of fundraising went down in our shop and across the sector in general.

Like product sales campaigns you will be speaking to brand, product and marketing folks as well as PR and communications firms.

The Employee Giving Campaign in Cause Related Marketing

So far we’ve talked a lot about getting a company’s customers giving as well getting their employees engaged but what about employee giving? The third party event is one opportunity to drive employee giving but let’s not forget about things like internal giving campaigns! This can be done through payroll deduction, monthly giving, major gifts or customized e-campaigns.

There is plenty of research that shows employees who make donations through payroll are more engaged and more effective. To get employees giving, you have to connect them to your cause, tell the stories of your program users and treat them like any other donor. Once you have the employer on board, employee giving looks a lot like any other individual giving/annual giving campaign.

So who do you talk to when you want to get into the employee giving space? You want to be talking to the folks in Human Resources or in corporate social responsibility (CSR)/Community Engagement or both.

Individual Giving

What is a piece on individual giving doing in a post about cause related marketing? Surely I must mean that individuals are involved with product sales, pinup campaigns or employee giving right? Nope! Let me explain myself:

Sometimes the owner or CEO of a company prefers to use their company for personal gifts or they want to meet at their office to talk about making an individual gift. If you go in to talk branding, sponsorship and corporate fundraising then you are in big trouble! Check out my post on sponsorship vs individual giving for a more detailed breakdown but if you notice that the owner of a company is more interested in hearing stories about the people/animals/environment that you help rather than how you can build their brand you may be in a major gift meeting.

Believe me, it happens and it can be tough for a cause related marketing specialist to switch to talking about impact and program outcomes, especially when you expected to be grilled about sponsorship assets. The lesson here is to know your cause well, study your case for support and have a handful of stories to share with prospects if you find the conversation directs you there.

Notice that these two posts describe opportunities to engage the corporate sector and only 10% of the space is reserved for “corporate philanthropy.” This is no accident. Does corporate philanthropy happen? Of course it does! But if you plan to make your budget on donation from corporations then you are in big trouble. Think investment, not gift and you will do far better.

Where to Start With the World of Cause Related Marketing?

It should be pretty clear that the sponsorship package is not the most important part of corporate development. Don’t fall into the trap of seeing corporate fundraising as a one trick pony! As you can see from this series, there are many many ways into a company and, I would argue, that starting with the corporate social responsibility folks may not be the best first step…especially if the majority of fundraisers and those seeking sponsorship see this as the only way in.

How do you know where to start? With so many potential opportunities, departments and people to contact, it can seem daunting. A warm contact is always the best place to start. Even if you want to talk sponsorship and know you need to go to marketing but only have a contact in the HR department, start there and ask for advice on how to get where you need to go.

How do you know what type of campaign to start with? Start with an asset building, pipeline building and valuation exercise! You will see some trends emerge from that process which will inform your sponsorship and corporate fundraising strategy. This will tell you which companies to connect with and who within those companies will be your best first stop.

Chris Baylis is a sponsorship and cause marketing specialist. Chris has managed the entire spectrum of the sponsorship process, raising millions of dollars for charities, associations and not for profits and is a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Connect with Chris via:
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