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How Cause Marketing Can Help Your Nonprofit

A lot of people get into non-profit work to escape the meaningless capitalist paradigm. Tired of chasing the almighty dollar, they eschew financial stability in search of work that pays the soul more than the wallet. Unfortunately, many soon realize that, while non-profits generally lack the obvious greed that can be common in the corporate world, their operations are still entirely dependent on money.


The good news is that it IS possible to make money and do good at the same time. Corporate social responsibility initiatives have been gaining popularity since the 1980s. Corporate social responsibility is when companies integrate practices to address social and environmental issues in their business model. The idea behind corporate social responsibility is that over the long-term companies will recoup costs associated with philanthropic work, as consumers favour companies whose products and services are in-line with their ethical values.

What is cause marketing?

Cause marketing is a type of corporate social responsibility where a company uses a promotional campaign to simultaneously increase their profits while gaining support for a worthwhile cause. Cause marketing campaigns have been growing in popularity since the 1980s. One notable example of a successful cause marketing campaign is the Born This Way Foundation’s Cups of Kindness campaign with Starbucks, which raised over $250,000 for youth empowerment.

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How is cause marketing beneficial for non-profits?

Obviously, a major incentive for non-profits to participate in cause marketing is money. Non-profits have notoriously shallow pockets while private enterprises tend to have much larger access to cash flow. Not only do for-profit businesses tend to have ample amounts of cash, they also tend to move a lot faster than their public funding counterparts, such as government or international organisations which are often weighed down by bureaucratic red tape.


However, the benefits of cause marketing are not just financial. Linking your organisation with a big name brand can do a lot for your reputation. Whereas many non-profits lack the resources to invest adequately in visibility, private companies know that marketing is a vital component in growing your business and often allocate funds accordingly. Having your organisation's name or logo appear on packaging, in advertisements, and in earned media placements, such as references in newspaper articles or on blogs, can go a very long way in terms of increasing awareness of your organisation and its work. Aside from the publicity non-profits get from cause marketing, they also benefit by gaining legitimacy in the eyes of potential donors. Having a corporate sponsor shows that your organisation has been vetted and is doing work meaningful enough to attract the attention (and sponsorship) of a company who will be eager to preserve its own reputation. This goes a really long way in terms of inspiring trust with other potential donors. Similarly, partnering with one company can have the added bonus of attracting the attention of other companies looking to pursue similar initiatives.


What are the downsides?

While gaining the support and publicity of partnership with a company that possesses a sterling reputation can be a huge boon to a non-profit organisation, aligning with a company that gets caught in a scandal can be detrimental. For this reason, it is vital that non-profits do thorough research about a company’s financials, practices, and management before entering into a partnership. If anything you see about a potential corporate partner which seems to contradict your organisation’s ethos, avoid taking their money. While it can be very difficult for cash-strapped organisations to turn down funds they would use for the greater good, integrity is paramount for non-profits. Taking a short-term solution to financial woes could end up being what eventually causes your organisation to close its doors permanently. Remember why you started doing this work. Remember the sacrifices that you said you were willing to make. Operate on shoestring budget until you find sponsors who truly share your organisation’s ethics.


How can non-profits take advantage of cause marketing?

The best way for organizations to create a symbiotic relationship with a for-profit counterpart is by investing time in thorough research. Brainstorm a list of companies whose work is related to the work of your organisation. For example, if your organisation is focused on marine conservation efforts, you may wish to approach aquariums or purveyors of sustainable seafood for partnership. Once you have a list of companies who may be sympathetic to your cause, delve a little deeper. Stalk them on Facebook. Read every page of their website. Before you ever reach out to another organisation for partnership, you want to learn everything you can about their work and business practices. Search for press coverage to see if the company or high-level employees have been involved in any scandals which may tarnish your organisation’s image. Check their website and social media to see if they are partnering with any other organisations doing work similar to yours.


Once you have a concrete list of target companies, tailor outreach strategies to meet their individual needs. Start by finding the correct person within a company to approach for partnership. This can be as easy as checking the company’s website or giving them a call. Before reaching out to the person in charge of partnership, however, make sure that you have your pitch ready. Come up with strategic points about why you believe a partnership between their company and your organisation would be mutually beneficial. Decide exactly what you will offer corporate partners in exchange for their sponsorship. Try creating fancy documents which include photos of corporate logos on an organisation’s projects, promotional materials, website, and social media presence to give potential partners a visual idea of what they will get in terms of promotion in exchange for funding. Make sure that your presentation looks polished. Additionally, it is a really good idea to have a brochure or fact sheet showing your organisation’s programs and accomplishments which you can attach to an initial pitch email. It is essential to make a case for why said company should partner with your particular organisation when there are money others who would happily put their funds to good use.


Cause marketing can effectively lead to exponential growth for non-profit organisations but it is not without pitfalls. Follow the above tips when approaching potential cause marketing opportunities in order to get your organisation the funding and publicity it needs while avoiding the drama that it could do without. 

About the Author

Katlyn Murray is a media consultant specialising in work for humanitarian aid and development organisations. She has worked on disaster response projects with USAID, IOM, Micronesian Conservation Coalition, and Young Pioneer Disaster Response, among others. Katlyn wants to tell stories that will change the world.

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