What is Cause Marketing and Is It Right for You?–With Joe Waters Part I

Before you can come up with ways to implement cause marketing (or even decide whether it’s right for your business) you need to get a basic understanding of what cause marketing is and what it isn’t.

That’s why I invited cause marketing expert Joe Waters to Cause Capitalism and asked him to explain what cause marketing means now and how your company or non-profit could benefit from a cause marketing program. Joe is the director of Cause and Event Marketing for Boston Medical Center and blogs regularly at Selfish Giving.

This interview is the first in a series that will cover: assessing whether cause marketing is right for you; implementation tactics; the non-profit/for-profit partnership; utilizing social media; cause marketing faux-pas and measuring your campaign’s success.

I highlighted some key points from our interview below, but I’d suggest you listen to our full conversation (30 minutes).

  1. Joe defines cause marketing as a partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit.
  2. For a non-profit, a cause marketing program earns them money, branding and visibility.
  3. For a profit, a cause marketing program generates sales and builds respect and favorability with consumers.
  4. This definition is focused on cause-related marketing (referred to succinctly as cause marketing by Joe and myself), not the marketing of a cause. The key distinction is that cause marketing is transactional, which means that money is raised–in addition to awareness. Joe goes more deeply into this point and the next in his post “What is Cause Marketing?”
  5. A marketing campaign qualifies as cause marketing if it uses at least one of three tactics:
    • Point-of-sale or pinups. These programs often happen at the register (“Would you like to donate $1 for X today?”) through paper cut-outs, stickers and scannables. Chili’sCreate A Pepper” campaign raised more than $5 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital by pinning up chili peppers that were colored by kids and purchased for $1. 100% of money raised goes directly to the non-profit.
    • Percentage-of-sale. A percentage of the purchase price is donated to a cause. Starbucks donates 5¢  every time you pay with your (STARBUCKS) Red card; Baking for Good donates 15% of every purchase.
    • Licensing. This is an expensive approach, primarily taken by large companies and charities. Joe sites the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation for the Advil Caplets Easy Open Arthritis Cap.
  6. As a representative of a mid-sized non-profit, Joe focuses on what businesses are looking to get from their relationship with a non-profit. By anticipating these expectations, Joe and his team can deliver, or over-deliver, on them, securing repeat campaigns and larger donations.
  7. You don’t have to be Goliaths like General Mills or Nike to leverage cause marketing. It’s a matter of scale. Small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs) should work with non-profit partners that match their scale to develop programs that fit their existing budget and resources.
  8. Tying cause marketing to events is a great strategy for broader visibility and event participation.
  9. Pinups/point-of-sale programs are highly effective for SMEs. More from Joe on pinups here.
  10. Pinups/point-of-sale programs are terrific branding and publicity tools. One-fifth of attendees to BMC’s annual Halloween Town [we’ll talk about this in Part 2 of this series] event heard about it through store pinups.
  11. Cause marketing is not charity, it’s marketing. If your company’s or corporate partners’ program doesn’t raise money, the program will be axed.
  12. You (as a for-profit or non-profit) will never get rich off of cause marketing.
  13. Cause marketing programs should be turn-key; if you ask too much from your (typically for-profit) partner, you will loose them.
  14. I emailed Joe to ask whether he had favorite stats on convincing companies of the merits of cause marketing. His reply: “I have to say, I really don’t. Cause marketing has become so widely accepted and known I feel like if I have to justify it to someone with stats they’re just not a good prospect. Kind of like trying to sell advertising to someone who has never bought advertising before. You’ll never get any where!”

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  1. Peter Korchnak January 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    There’s a huge difference between a partnership and a campaign. The former is (or should be) strategic, while the latter is tactical, short-term. In order for cause marketing to really work and be socially sustainable, it must be strategic and core, rather than merely transactional.

    A few more options are available for cause marketing. Some of the ones not mentioned here (there is overlap): advertising/PR, sponsorship, paid endorsement, affiliate programs, or facilitated giving.

    I look forward to future posts on this topic. Meanwhile, I invite everyone to read my two recent related posts:


  2. admin January 19, 2010 at 10:07 pm #


    You’re absolutely right about a partnership being strategic (and invested) versus a campaign, that is likely one facet of that partnership. The other options you mentioned can also be great choices. I hope you don’t mind but I’m elaborating (pasted from your post on Cause Marketing and Social Sustainability) the additional forms of cause marketing that you mentioned:

    Advertising/PR: promoting the cause or strategic partnership
    Sponsorship: funding a program
    Affiliate marketing: compensating the nonprofit partner for funneled customers or sales
    Facilitated giving: asking customers to donate to the supported cause or nonprofit (I see this as primarily covered by what Joe refers to as point-of-sale or pinups).

    Thanks again!

  3. Joe Waters January 19, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    I agree with Peter. The transactional programs I focus on are better called cause-related marketing. The strategic campaigns he is talking about are better realized under cause branding and corporate social responsibility.

    But whatever you call them, yes, the best programs are strategic and core. This is difficult to communicate to a small nonprofit, however. That’s why my focus with them in the beginning is short-term and tactical. Because you don’t have to have the best program to raise money.

  4. Mosses Akizian February 3, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    Thank you Olivia for this interview.

    I’m interested in implementing cause marketing as we had discussed in private. The problem I’m having is trying to figure out the right cause(s) that will complement my small ecommerce startup. As Peter Korchnak wrote: “In order for cause marketing to really work and be socially sustainable, it must be strategic and core, rather than merely transactional.” I totally agree. I’m not looking to jump on any wagon just to show that I care. I want it to be meaningful and prosperous for all parties involved; the foundation; my startup and the beneficiaries.

    I look forward to Part II and definitely will revisit both interviews to get a better grasp of the topic.

    P.S. Can you add downloadable mp3? Would be easier to listen in iTunes and transfer to my iPhone. Thanks.

  5. admin February 3, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    Hi Mosses. Thanks for your comment. I posted part 2 with Joe yesterday. That–and a post that will run tomorrow–both address finding and working with a nonprofit that fits your company and you. If you are committed to getting food to more people, one portion of your commitment/social mission can be transactional, with a percentage of sale going to the cause you support. In-kind gifts, volunteering with your non-profit partner or helping them promote their cause or fundraising events on your site are other elements that you can use.

    I will look into downloadable mp3 (I thought I already had it!). Thanks Mosses and feel free to email me directly to continue the conversation.

  6. Capt. D.C. Anderson February 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    There is no easy way for me to explain this opportunity to you. You will simply have to go to http://www.earth-ship and read as much as you can. When you begin to see the potential for your clients please contact me. I will then send you the full proposal .

    A marketing consultant with 32 years experience as a marketing executive for Hewlett Packard told me that in all his years in the business he had never seen an opportunity that had this degree of reach, nor was this cost effective. I hope you will come to the same conclusion.

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