Thinking Pink: Things to Consider When Considering Cause-Related Marketing

Have you noticed a preponderance of pink this month? It seems every company, national and local, is participating in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I noticed a local pizza chain turned its weekly ad on Sunday into a sea of pink (but fortunately it isn’t selling pink pizzas).

All this attention to an important cause is great, but there is one downside. It’s about now that board members and some colleagues say, “You know, we have a great cause, so we need to get some of those corporate partnerships, too. Can you look into that? I mean, how hard can it be?”

But as fundraisers, we know it’s never as easy as it seems. If it were, we wouldn’t need continuing education and newsletters like this one, and every nonprofit would have more money than it could spend on worthwhile programs. So, before you fanaticize about doing away with these well-meaning colleagues, here are some things to consider.

Know what pocket you need to dig in to
Corporate partnerships, are, for the most part, a marketing expense. Corporations may make donations as part of their commitment to philanthropy, but a corporate sponsorship isn’t part of that. The other name for these kinds of partnerships is cause-related marketing — and “marketing” is the all-important word.

Corporations put their marketing dollars where they are going to get the best return on their investments. So your job is to figure out why your nonprofit is a better investment than, say, an insert in the newspaper.

Know what you have to offer
Marketing is about give and take — Company X gives up money in exchange for advertising or “promotional consideration.” Cause-related marketing agreements aren’t entered into simply because companies want to help make the world a better place. Sure, they all do (or say they do), but that’s the role of their corporate philanthropy departments.

The role of marketing is to invest dollars where they will result in more sales. So, if they invest in a cause-related marketing agreement with your organization, how is that going to boost their sales? Do you have a core of donors who match a demographic that the company wants to penetrate? Can you offer access to your mailing list in exchange for its advertising investment? What about any agreements with your donors about sharing their data?

Whatever you think you have to offer, consider it carefully. There are many restrictions on what you can mail using your nonprofit permit, so don’t be too quick to offer to include a company’s advertisement in your newsletter that is mailed at the reduced postage rate. Will the long-term fallout be too great to move ahead with a cause-related marketing agreement?

Think locally
National chains often have official charities they support, and their local franchises can’t add any others without risking the wrath of “corporate.” So begin with local companies that don’t have these kinds of restrictions.

Even these smaller companies expect a return on their investment. Do they have suggestions of what would make the arrangement favorable to them? Don’t agree to anything immediately, but ask for their ideas and then go back to the office and discuss if this is something you are prepared to offer.

If nothing else, use the “open door” to encourage future support. If these companies aren’t interested in a cause-related marketing opportunity, suggest that they consider donating gifts-in-kind (a gift card, for example) as auction items or door prizes for your next event.

Yes, my corner of the world has gone pink for the month of October. But when seeing so much of it makes your nonprofits see another color — green (as in dollars) — don’t forget to think through your half of the equation in a cause-related marketing opportunity before you try to woo a partner.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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