It’s a question that most socially conscious small business owners ask: “How do I continue to grow my business in a way that’s making a difference?” One option is cause marketing.
Cause marketing is a cooperative effort between a business and a nonprofit for mutual profit. These partnerships can involve marketing campaigns designed to raise money for the nonprofit and increase sales for the business. They can also involve companies leveraging their assets, expertise, and employees to support nonprofit projects and causes. A successful cause marketing campaign can lead to stronger sales and more engaged employees for the business. For the nonprofit, it can lead to a new revenue source, more donors, and greater awareness of their cause.
It sounds simple enough, but how does a small business with limited resources get started with cause marketing?
To build an effective, mutually beneficial partnership with a charity takes some planning. So, before you dive head-first into the deep end of the cause-marketing pool, here are a few important things to consider:
Take time for self-reflection and ask and answer a few important questions:
- What does your business stand for? It’s purpose?
- What do you do well? What does your company have to offer?
- What sets you apart from the competition?
- Who are your customers/clients, and what do they value?
- What is the essence of your brand?
- What causes do you personally care about?
Identify the most important, unique, and valuable aspects of your business. It might take some effort to get beyond the easy, surface-level answers. But, if you take the time to dig a bit deeper, it will go a long way towards helping you create an effective and authentic cause strategy.
Remember, effective cause partnerships are about more than just you and your business – it’s a relationship between your business, a cause, and the community-at-large (full of potential customers and employees).
Engage your employees in the process
What causes are your employees interested in supporting? Perhaps one of them delivers meals on wheels on the weekends or volunteers as a tutor at an after-school program. Mine your local treasures. Getting your employees involved in the planning process will ensure your campaign has the internal support it needs to take flight.
Do your homework
I can’t stress this enough. Take the time to research what other businesses in your space have done as far as cause marketing. You want to see what works and what doesn’t. Are there any campaigns out there that resonate with you?
Before you select a nonprofit partner – do your research. Effective cause marketing campaigns are builtl on solid foundations. When researching nonprofit partners, ask yourself these questions:
- Do they have the right infrastructure, resources, and leadership to support the partnership?
- Do they have a proven track record in serving their mission?
- Do they have financial stability and a diverse source of revenue?
- Will their brand align with yours or diminish it?
Think beyond money
Successful cause partnerships aren’t solely based on raising money. They can involve non-cash support such as your employees volunteering their time and talent to a cause. It can involve your business donating products and services in-kind.
Years ago when I managed an American Express Travel office in Boston, I established partnerships with a few nonprofits. One nonprofit we supported needed access to a bank of phones to make fundraising calls for a new campaign. I opened up my reservations office for three nights and donated the use of our phones.
Another nonprofit partner was holding a fundraiser on a Saturday night in the atrium of our building. They needed a coat room, and since our office was located in the lobby I offered the use of our office. We rolled in the coat racks and I volunteered to check coasts – problem solved.
Both of these no-cost examples helped strengthen our relationship with the nonprofits while exposing our good deeds to potential customers.
Set the right expectations
Be realistic, start where you are, test the waters. Successful campaigns require careful planning. Set realistic goals together with your nonprofit partner. You want your campaign to augment your current marketing efforts, not overshadow them. Be realistic about your businesses can offer in terms of time, talent and treasure.
Launching a cause marketing campaign for the wrong reasons can result in a serve backlash. Launching one with the right motivation and creativity will surely set you up for success.
Not sure if cause marketing is right for your business? Share your comments or suggestions below, or feel free to contact me directly.