Pulling the Big “C”: Actually Putting the Cause First in Cause Marketing

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Hi, my name is Samantha Estoesta Williams and I am sucker for cause marketing, especially those awful Sarah McLachlan animal cruelty ads. If I can spend my money on daily essentials and feel like I am actually making a difference, I am there.

With that said, I may be a sucker but that does not mean that I’m naïve.

Cause marketing campaigns are brilliant; it is a nearly $500 billion industry composed of personal giving and volunteering, charitable giving in both people power and monetary funds. Charity in those forms is a regular part of life for nearly a quarter of the American adult population. Cause marketing banks on this guaranteed population and pairs it with goods that are going to be bought anyway: food, hygiene, clothing, etc.

Example: buying a “You just had a baby and I once sat next to you in a meeting so CONGRATS” gift

Person: Tiny humans like stuffed animals, right?

Person: This regular looking teddy bear should be good.

Person: Oh, but this other regular looking teddy bear is donating a toy to Kids Wish Network. New parents love this stuff!

Person puts the Kids Wish Network regular looking teddy bear in their shopping cart and continues on their way.

It’s a win-win-win situation: you purchase a gift for your coworker (Karen? Carol? Cara?), you donate to charity, AND you feel good about yourself!

I wish it were as easy as that but unfortunately, sometimes it really is too good to be true. Thanks to the constant vigilance of  The Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting, consumers can turn to their annual list of the Top 50 Worst Charities.

The current winner of the worst charity is Kids Wish Network, giving a whopping 2.5% in direct funding to children. Over 10 years less than $3.5 million (out of $141 million) went to sick and dying children. That includes the amount of toys donated through holiday drives; the sad thing is that Kids Wish Network is not alone – there are 49 other groups listed, some of which have had investigative reports put out by the media, i.e. the Susan G. Koman Foundation and Pinkwashing.

However, there is hope, fellow givers and suckers! For every bad example, there are dozens of good examples of solid campaigns. You can even look at the winners of the 2014 Cause Marketing Halo Awards (for both business and non-profits) to see what causes you can buy from without falling for a gimmick. Eatiply and the Get a shot. Give a shot. campaigns are my two favorites.

Eatiply has partner businesses in 9 cities in the United States. The premise is simple: go to a partner business and purchase a meal/services/goods/etc. That partner business will then donate the cost equivalent of a meal to a partnered food bank. All of this happens at no cost to you. How fantastic is that? No added cost, all you have to do is pick a participating place. You were going to go out for dinner anyway – and if you weren’t, here’s a good excuse!

Get a shot. Give a shot. campaign donated 3 million vaccines to children of low Gross Domestic Product nations worldwide just by having people get their regular flu shot immunizations at Walgreens between September 3 and October 14, 2013. It was such a success it ran again in 2014, and there are plans in place to continue the project.

With ethical and socially responsible spending on the rise, and when both the choice AND funds are available, traditional forms of cause marking (i.e. pinkwashing) are coming under fire as actual donation figures are released and skepticism rises. Campaigns like Eatiply and Get a shot. Give a shot., provide active transparency and partnerships with credible agencies. These campaigns also go straight to the agencies making direct change with no chance that it will go to other ‘administrative’ or suspect costs. It’s not “for every $1, 10 cents goes to research.” It’s a one-on-one parity, and that’s change you can count on.

Photo credit: tofacethe via photopin cc.

First generation Canadian. Social media aficionado. Community engager; Communications connoisseur. A small person trying to make big change.

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