Sponsorship Blog

Cause Marketing: When Giving Your All May Not Be Enough

By Vinu Joseph Aug 26, 2009

My colleague Dan Kowitz's earlier post on cause marketing illustrated a potentially troubling trend for companies and nonprofits involved in cause marketing.

Though recent consumer research seems to encourage companies to get more involved with causes, those companies will be facing consumers with big expectations. With many companies making six-figure minimum cause marketing guarantees, the bar has been set pretty high. “Go big or go home” might be true with respect to sponsorship, but it seems like a dangerous game to play with cause marketing.

If you're trying to wow the public with your level of involvement with a cause, then the size of a donation or fundraising campaign does matter. But if I were a relatively small player, I would find it troubling if I took flak for not giving away enough—though it might actually be a much larger percentage of my budget than one of the big guys.

Certainly this is the reality of a competitive marketplace. But we—as an industry and as consumers—may be shooting ourselves in the foot by setting impossibly high standards. If we glorify a select few companies for their involvement, will the perceived cost of entry become prohibitive for small players and actually discourage them from getting involved with nonprofits? We’ve worked with several organizations facing this challenge with their cause marketing efforts, and it requires a lot of time and frank discussion to figure out how to offer unique solutions to the multi-national corporation and the local mom-and-pop.



strategic philanthropy cause marketing


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Kate Lee 8/27/2009 10:19 AM
Expectation at a national level are certainly higher. When the cause is advertised in national magazines, I jump to the fine print. Seeing a minimal "maximum donation" (compared to the company's bottom line or total product sales) tells me the company is buying consumer emotion, but not making a meaningful contribution to the cause. And I move on, usually thinking "How lame was that."

A local campaign such as iParty - that's a big success, and one that can be parlayed into a longer-term connection that will benefit the cause and the company. Consumers like to buy local and see the local impact of the donation from the cause-marketing effort.
Vinu Joseph 8/26/2009 11:34 PM
Wow, Joe. It sounds like your partnership with iParty was quite the success. Still, $161,000 is a lot whether you're a local or national property. I'd be surprised if anyone turned up his or her nose at that amount. I just imagine that consumer expectations for a national cause marketing campaign would be higher than for a local effort.
Joe Waters 8/26/2009 8:57 PM
The greater expectation from consumers is not how much you've done, but whether you've done anything at all.

There is a tremendous opportunity among small and medium size retailers and restaurants to execute simple and relatively lucrative point-of-sale cause marketing programs for their favorite charities. These programs are effective and well received by consumers.

A great example here in Boston is my nonprofit's partnership with iParty, a 50 store chain that meets all your party needs. Last year, iParty raised $161,000 with cause marketing programs that supported key programs at my hospital.

Consumers applauded. They didn't ask why iParty didn't do more.

To learn more about cause marketing for small businesses, check out this post:


To learn more about iParty:


Joe Waters
Twitter ID: @joewaters

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