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Consider the Pros and Cons of Cause-Related Marketing

For Better or Worse?

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Macy's Holiday Cause Marketing Campaign with Make a Wish Foundation Macy's and Make a Wish Foundation partner for a holiday campaign/photo courtesy of Macy's.

What are the advantages of cause-related marketing?

There are advantages for both nonprofit and business. For business, cause-related marketing proves that it is socially responsible and provides great public awareness of its values and willingness to support good causes.

For the nonprofit, the contributions from a cause-related marketing project can be significant, and those funds are usually unrestricted so even overhead costs can be supported by them. Besides actual monetary benefit is the intangible value of the publicity and advertising that usually accompanies a cause-related marketing program, which is often done by the corporation's public relations and marketing departments in tandem with the nonprofit's own marketing.

What are the disadvantages of cause-related marketing?

There is always the possibility that one of the entities involved (nonprofit or corporation) will do something that hurts its reputation. In that case, the other party may be perceived negatively as well. For that reason, corporations and nonprofits should choose their partners wisely.

In addition, there has been considerable concern about nonprofits lending their good names to for-profit activities. Does it weaken the trustworthiness of a nonprofit? Does it blur the lines between business and philanthropy? Could a nonprofit "sell out" by lending its support to products that are less than benign for the public? These questions continue to be debated by both fundraising and marketing professionals.

Mara Einstein, marketing professor and author, raised these questions in an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

  • Does buying products for a cause take the place of writing a check to a charity or going online and signing up for a monthly gift?
  • Do large, national nonprofits that have become marketing powerhouses take attention and money away from smaller but just as worthy charities?
  • Since cause-marketing is usually handled by the marketing department of participating corporations, do "product strategies" outweigh humanitarian ones?

Cause marketing is here to stay, however, and there is no doubt that it can be beneficial for many charities and causes. The challenge will be to understand it better and head off negative consequences.

Resources for this article include:

  • Cause Marketing for Nonprofits: Partner for Purpose, Passion, and Profits, Jocelyne Daw, Wiley, 2006. This is an extremely well documented text about cause-related marketing.
  • The Art of Cause Marketing: How to Use Advertising to Change Personal Behavior and Public Policy, Richard Earle, McGraw Hill, 2002. Earle cites his top 10 list of the best cause-marketing campaigns and why they worked.
  • Cause Marketing Forum
  • Charities Shouldn’t Let Corporate Marketers Set the Agenda, Mara Einstein, Chronicle of Philanthropy (April 29, 2012). (subscription required)
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