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Cause Marketing Best Practices: Everything You Need to Know About Cause Related Marketing

by | April 16, 2020

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  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
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Before you dive in, if you are interested in charity sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for charities” series:

Cause marketing, sometimes called cause related marketing, provides a partnership opportunity between for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations. When done properly, it creates benefits for both partners by providing financial support for the cause and marketing opportunities for the business. As a nonprofit, you have the chance to get creative when approaching cause marketing initiatives, allowing you to customize the marketing opportunities to help meet your partners’ goals.

However, to be effective and continue to develop longer-lasting partnerships, it is important to use cause marketing best practices that help guarantee success. You’ll need a solid cause marketing strategy to help keep you focused on your goals while also ensuring you don’t go too far off the mark when it comes to finding the best prospects and partners. Here’s everything you need to know about cause-related marketing for successful campaigns every time.

What is Cause Marketing?

The term cause marketing, or cause-related marketing, not only refers to a partnership between the cause and its partners but also to any type of marketing effort for social and other charitable causes. It is not simply soliciting corporate giving, but instead exchanges marketing strategies for money, services, products, talent and more. It forms relationships that do not rely on donations, but a sharing of assets you and your partners have to offer. A partner’s brand gains recognition while your cause receives support. 

Cause related marketing started out based on basic donations generated with the purchase of a product. Your cause is mentioned on the packaging and every time someone purchases said product, a certain dollar amount goes towards your charity. However, we like to think of this type of set up more as “product sales” because there is far more to cause marketing than selling chocolate bars or sharing sales for a certain product. Our goal here is to look at the bigger picture and discuss all the colorful marketing opportunities that fall under the cause-related marketing umbrella.

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The Benefits of Cause Marketing

 When cause marketing is done right it increases exposure and awareness for you and your partners. That’s it in a nutshell, but there are many other benefits you and your partners can expect including: 

  • Both partners can experience an increase in brand loyalty
  • Supporting brands can see an increase in sales
  • Free exposure for the cause and its partners such as press coverage, reviews, social media exposure, etc.
  • An edge over the competition for your partners
  • A more unique approach to marketing for partners
  • Shared exposure through leveraging of each other’s marketing assets
  • Improved credibility for your cause
  • Improved reputation for partners
  • Marketing spends become more focused for partners

Consumers today are committed to their own set of values. More people commit to brand loyalty for brands that show they have a moral compass and share the same values with them. Through cause marketing, partners can find they improve their social responsibility image while causes gain more credibility through alignment with reputable brands. Awareness expands for your cause, which helps you attract public support and increases fundraising opportunities.

Cause Marketing for Nonprofits: 5 Things You Should Know

 Cause marketing has its own set of unwritten rules nonprofits should keep in mind. The five most prominent things you should know are: 

1. There are disadvantages:

The possible disadvantage for cause marketing is it can lead to less than positive PR when it is not managed well. If you align yourself with the wrong brands, allow brands to use less than ethical marketing ploys or fail to see how a certain alignment could backfire, you run the risk for losing support instead of gaining recognition. The same can be said for the companies who choose to participate in cause marketing with you. If your cause can be seen as questionable, lacking ethics or even be considered controversial, you could end up facing contractual challenges with partners.

2. Understand the required investment:

Cause marketing requires an investment on your part. You have to build up marketing assets to share with partners. If you aren’t careful it can end up costing you more than you make back from partners, so budgeting becomes very important, as does the value you apply to the assets you sell.

3. Be prepared for corporations to expect something in return:

Unlike outright donations, cause marketing is basically a business deal. Partners will expect something in return for their efforts although it comes under the guise of “giving.” Therefore you have to be hypersensitive to potential risks some partners can present. As mentioned in point #1, perception is very important and therefore you have to understand the selfish side of cause marketing, but stay focused on your needs and cause so you aren’t taken advantage of.

4. Take advantage of pro bono work:

Because you do have to budget for cause marketing, don’t overlook the possibility of working with local businesses who might be willing to provide a more polished look to your marketing assets. Web design companies, SEO experts, digital marketers, graphic designers and even marketing strategists will often be willing to provide pro bono services in exchange for a simple Such and such provided by their brand name and logo.

5. Cause marketing is not sponsorship:

Cause marketing benefits the business and nonprofit because the power of the brand can generate profits for both partners. The cause is the tactic behind the business’ marketing efforts which provides direct profits from the partnership. Sponsorship solicits a contribution towards a specific event or program that the nonprofit leverages for its own marketing and communication purposes. It is a marketing tool for the company that allows them to reach their ideal target audience. In the case of sponsorship, nonprofits receive a payment, which is treated like a marketing expense by the company who receives contact with their ideal audience in hand with a boost to their image even though a sale is not guaranteed. 

Keeping these less obvious factors in mind will help you avoid common pitfalls that could ruin your marketing efforts.

How to Develop a Cause Marketing Strategy

 When you decide to tackle cause marketing, you need to first create a cause marketing strategy. With a strategy in place, you are less likely to go off half-cocked trying to partner with any business that will have you. Your strategy keeps you focused, so you ensure what you offer partners works for both of you, and more importantly connects with your supporters. So, first and foremost, you have to ensure your cause and the businesses you approach are aligned. 

A women’s shelter for example would not go after a beer company, and a human rights organization would not pursue companies known for using child labor. The brands must also see that your cause would be meaningful and important to their customers while the company must also be important to your cause. It’s all about aligning yourself with the companies that make the most sense and to whom you can provide marketing opportunities that help them meet their marketing goals.

Don’t be afraid to be bold and take a stand in the name of your cause. What brands can help you do this more effectively? How can you leverage the power of a brand to provide you with new ways to get your message across to the right people who will care? Invest in a marketing budget that will make it easier for you to have a more impressive menu of assets. Your marketing assets are what you will be selling and when done right your cause marketing funds will help cover your own marketing budget.

 Important areas to consider would be pay per click online advertising, SEO and content building and effective social media pages. You can then measure success you see in your own marketing efforts to help show the value your cause can offer brands. Measure the success of those efforts and create an ongoing cycle of metrics to add credibility to your asset menu.

Cause Related Marketing Strategy Basics

Your strategy should also address the most important steps and research so you can set your prospecting ball in motion. That would include:

Set a Revenue Goal

This is simply a base number that helps you have a target dollar amount in mind. From there, you can calculate how many prospects you need based on the average value your cause marketing opportunities offer.

Research Your Audience

Know your audience so you can present good reason for partners to want to support your cause. Research your volunteers and donors and try to collect as much information as you can so you provide solid segments your prospects will want to connect with.

Consider Your Cause

You might feel you know your cause inside and out, but have you looked at it from a potential partner’s standpoint? Your cause should be clear, with a mission statement and defined values that make it easier for prospects to see why they should align themselves with your cause.

They are looking for nonprofit partners that suit their corporate social responsibility plan, so you want to provide them with points that will help them see how supporting your cause will resonate with their customers and target audience. How will partners view your cause? Do you have a reputation for being credible, ethical and socially responsible? Work on your own reputation and corporate social responsibility plan so you offer nothing but opportunity.

Create a List of Assets and Apply Values

As mentioned, cause marketing should not just be about product sales, although this is always a good thing to include. The way brands connect with their customers and target audience opens up opportunities for you to use your own programs to create a list of potential marketing assets they can tap into. What opportunities can you offer? List them, allot a value to them and create a menu you can present to your prospects. We discuss this process in more detail further on.

Create a Sales Funnel

To effectively sell cause marketing opportunities, you need to work from a sales funnel. List the stages of your funnel on a spreadsheet so you can track your progress: 

With a funnel, you have a plan that keeps you focused on the volume of prospects and when and where you need to feed new prospects into each stage.

Consider Your Ideal Partners

The relationship between you and your partners has to work on many levels. It is about your audience, but it is also about theirs. It even goes beyond that and includes their employees and company culture. More companies today consider their social responsibility as part of their culture. They support causes that resonate with their customers as well as their team. What companies do you think will get excited about your cause?

Once you’ve got your strategy down, you can begin to put together your assets menu, costs and prospecting in motion.

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The Different Types of Cause Marketing

To create your list of assets, you should consider all the possibilities cause marketing has to offer. The list is long, and not every asset will work for your particular cause. However, when you understand the goals of your partners, you will be in a better position to offer a customized cause marketing campaign designed to help them meet their goals. Your choices include:

Point of Sale:

This applies to retail partners who will solicit a cash donation from customers at the time they make a purchase.

Cause Products:

A specialty product where purchase proceeds go to your charity.

Buy one Give One:

This is an excellent option if your cause can benefit from certain items. For example, homeless shelters would benefit from free toiletries they can stock for residents, a pair of athletic shoes or gear would work for underprivileged kids’ sports teams, a makeup purchase would work for homeless teens, a food product works for food banks, etc.

Incentives to Donate:

Companies can provide coupons, discounts, free products, etc. in exchange for a cash donation.

Social Media Campaigns:

Your marketing assets for social media campaigns can be endless and are limited only by what you are willing to allow in your, or your partner’s feeds. Think contests, shared content, live streams of events, links to branded podcasts, user-generated content opportunities, etc. You can use the creativity of your team and your partner’s marketing whizzes to come up with truly unique opportunities.

Messaging or Awareness focused:

A good example of a cause that would use this approach would be MADD. However, as long as there is something to learn about a cause, there can be awareness and messaging marketing opportunities.

PPC for Free with Google Ad Grants:

This is an excellent option as you receive free access to the largest search engine. Although there are some limitations, such as a budget of $10,000 per month, this is a great marketing tactic cause marketing partners would be happy to tap into.


Sponsorship is indeed a marketing discipline and while it exists as a discipline outside of the world of cause marketing, it is valuable to think of cause sponsorship as a cousin of cause marketing.

These are the most common types of cause marketing opportunities. However, between you and your partners you might come up with totally new and exciting ideas that can be used. As the nonprofit you should remain open to new ideas, as long as they make sense for your cause.

Cause Marketing Best Practices

Execution of for cause marketing must be carried out impeccably. Therefore, we strongly recommend you embrace cause marketing best practices to see success:

  • Understand your partner’s goals: What does your partner want their audience to do as a result of their marketing? You need to understand the segments you offer and the goal of your partners. It is about expected behaviors, and the relevancy that behavior has to the brand, the action required and the desired end result.
  • Keep it real: Honesty and transparency are the rule of the day. Authentic experiences are a must when it comes to cause marketing. Honest, sincere marketing campaigns resonate with people and today’s savvy, sensitive consumer can sense a poorly designed “sales pitch” a mile away. Be unique, caring and authentic and partners will get the right response.
  • Build relationships: Try to focus on creating a relationship with your partners instead of simply getting them to jump onboard for one-off campaigns, ads or programs. Cause marketing should be focused on longer-term efforts that continue to build momentum. They need time to simmer and should be nurtured with changes and instalments that keep the idea alive. It’s not about hype, but instead about lasting impact.
  • Achieve loyalty: Your goal should be to gain loyal people and brands who will continue to support your cause with time and funding. One-time interactions don’t work for cause marketing, as support is always required. Your marketing efforts, therefore, should create reasons people should become advocates for your cause with clearly defined benefits to cause loyalty.
  • Don’t forget grassroot efforts: Find the groups that can help influence larger groups and you can find better opportunities. Smaller groups are often more dedicated and not as likely to lose sight of their reason for supporting your cause. These segments also often provide more focused segments that can appeal to partners.
  • Present assets that get employees onboard: If the workforce behind your partners gets in on the action, it provides a huge motivation for others to follow suit. When a brand sees you are offering an opportunity for their staff, they see it as an opportunity for a more collaborative effort. It will resonate better with not just their brand and customers, but their culture and staff.
  • Measure success: We’ve mentioned this as part of your strategy and we’re mentioning it again as a key component of best practices. Not everything you offer will be successful, so you have to measure success and compensate for failures. When you keep track of how things pan out you can look at ways to leverage successes and improve or remove tactics that don’t work. Your assets become more focused and your marketing minds become more creative with possible experimental offerings some partners might get excited about.

You can assess your partnerships to see where you can improve practices to enjoy smoother execution and better-aligned relationships.

How to Value a Cause Marketing Campaign

Although sponsorships and cause marketing are two different things, the one thing they have in common is the need for a comprehensive menu of marketing assets you offer. Therefore you really can apply the same process to valuing your cause marketing campaigns as you would for your sponsorship menu. To summarize for timing sake, your goal is to apply a realistic value to all of the assets used for the campaign to set your minimum amount. Although this takes time, some of the basic steps are as follows:

  • List your assets with a brief explanation of what the asset entails
  • Research similar costs charged by other sources to get an idea of what pricing would be fair
  • Segment your donors and supporters into clear personas to present the value your contacts present to prospects
  • Understand your brand value and the unique opportunities it presents to prospects

You can review the entire process in detail in this article.

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Cause Marketing Examples

 Some excellent examples of cause marketing that works include: 

 These are just a few examples of how businesses embrace cause marketing.

Now you have a far better picture of what cause marketing includes, how to come up with a cause marketing strategy, the types of opportunities it presents and what it takes to execute it perfectly.