Boots on the Ground: Early Learnings from Timberland’s Help for Haiti

By Diane Knoepke Jan 20, 2010

As we all think about the various responses—personal, organizational, corporate, governmental—to the earthquakes and humanitarian crises in Haiti, there are instructive failures and rousing successes at every turn.

I have been one of many talking and thinking about Timberland’s response this past week. Some bad PR is in the mix—mostly criticism and skepticism surrounding (a) business practices between Wyclef Jean and the Yéle Haiti foundation and (b) the size and nature of donations triggered by the sale of Timberland products. (If you’re looking for background on the relationship and/or criticism, here’s an article that sums it up.)

Looking beyond that, here are some important things Timberland has done right in this campaign, handy for any company looking to do any sort of cause marketing—whether in response to a tragedy or within the normal course of partnership business.

  1. They’re not jumping on a bandwagon. Timberland signed its relationship with Yéle Haiti in fall 2009, so it had already made a commitment to support work there prior to the earthquake. That foundation protects them from being seen as an exploiter of tragedy and rather a company that had already seen alignment with the needs of this part of the world.
  2. They were nimble and decisive. The original plan was to support reforestation in Haiti. Within hours of the earthquake, Timberland had redirected its support to the relief effort and re-upped its communication to customers and consumers about how they could help.
  3. They encouraged direct donations to the relief effort. While it may seem an obvious move, it’s also a very smart one. On the Timberland Earthkeepers Help Haiti landing page, the calls for direct web and text donations to the cause are much more noticeable and higher profile than the text about the product tie-ins.
  4. They are using their core business to support the effort. Timberland has used Twitter and Facebook, at least to a moderate extent, to update information and try to engage more donors. But their core business is neither fundraising nor disaster relief. They say as much in what they posted today on the Earthkeepers blog, in which they describe how they will use their expertise in distribution and bootmaking to make a tangible difference on the ground in Haiti. The post brings together everything Timberland’s trying to do, and doing well, including using a frank yet hopeful voice to tell the story.


strategic philanthropy cause marketing



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