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Cause-Related Marketing: A Brief Guide for Nonprofits

In today’s world, consumers want to support corporations that emphasize ethical practices and work to make society a better place. For many businesses, that means taking part in corporate social responsibility and contributing to charitable organizations in their communities. From a nonprofit standpoint, this can lead to an increase in support from businesses and additional revenue for worthwhile causes.

Enter cause-related marketing. When charitable organizations and for-profit businesses work together, this impactful strategy has the power to elevate nonprofit/business partnerships and make a real difference in the world around us. However, many nonprofits fail to recognize the potential that cause marketing holds.

In this quick guide, we’ll provide you with some key insights and answer the following critical questions on the topic:

  1. What is cause-related marketing?
  2. How does cause-related marketing benefit nonprofits?
  3. What are some examples of cause-related marketing efforts?
  4. What are some best practices for cause-related marketing?

For businesses investing in cause-related marketing strategies, running a successful campaign can mean improved awareness, sales, and reputation. For nonprofits like yours, however, corporate cause marketing efforts can result in increased funding and long-term community partnerships.

Ready to learn more about this win-win situation and see how you can maximize its impact for your own cause? Let’s get started!

What is cause-related marketing?

Cause-related marketing is a specific type of corporate philanthropy in which companies partner with nonprofit organizations to spread the word about their brands while doing social good. By sponsoring a co-branded marketing campaign, the corporation often makes significant financial contributions to the nonprofit as well. This type of campaign creates a mutually beneficial relationship between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations with substantial advantages available to both parties.

How does cause-related marketing benefit nonprofits?

While cause-related marketing is typically seen as a corporate strategy, it simultaneously functions as effective marketing for nonprofit organizations that participate as well. Often, big corporations have larger marketing spends than charities that are typically on tighter budgets. As such, organizations can benefit from these partnerships (and free publicity!) in significant ways.

For example, cause-related marketing can result in the following advantages for nonprofits:

  • Increased funding: A major component of any cause-related marketing campaign is the financial support given by the business in question. Corporate contributions are one of three overarching sources of charitable funding for many organizations, alongside individual donations and grant-giving foundations. When nonprofits partner with these businesses, they collect a significant amount of revenue for their own fundraising needs.
  • Boosted awareness: Cause marketing efforts are a great way to get an organization’s name (and mission) out there in front of potential new supporters who might have never interacted with them before. Thanks to the business partnership, a company’s dedicated customers will be exposed to the charitable cause and even consider becoming loyal supporters themselves.
  • Long-term business partnerships: Although most cause marketing campaigns are short-term efforts, the forging of one provides a chance for ongoing nonprofit partnerships. For example, a business might sponsor a single nonprofit fundraising event then move on to support the organization through additional giving opportunities like matching gifts, volunteer grants, in-kind donations, or payroll deductions.

With these benefits and more, nonprofits are better able to secure much-needed revenue and drive their missions forward.

What are some examples of cause-related marketing efforts?

The first known example of a cause-related marketing campaign was spearheaded in 1983 by American Express. This company vowed to donate one cent to the Statue of Liberty restoration for every time a charge card was swiped, which resulted in increased card usage and new cardholders for the business as well as more than $1.7 million for the foundation rebuilding the statue.

Since then, these nonprofit/business partnerships have flourished. In recent times, a popular way that businesses support nonprofit organizations is by acting as a corporate sponsor on Giving Tuesday. For example, on Giving Tuesday 2020, DoorDash partnered with the leading network of nonprofit food pantries, Feeding America, to provide a meal to someone in need for every meal that was purchased through the food delivery app.

Alternatively, some companies choose to work with and support nonprofit efforts by sponsoring their events. This might happen on a smaller scale, with a local restaurant partnering with the neighborhood community center to host a walk-a-thon or similar fundraising event. When the business provides donations of funding or goods, the organization can, in turn, include them on promotional materials as a key sponsor for the event.

What are some best practices for cause-related marketing?

We’ve walked through some examples of successful campaigns and explored various reasons why nonprofits should invest in cause-related marketing. But how can you make sure your team gets the most out of your partnership efforts? Consider the following best practices.

1. Choose your corporate partners carefully.

Just like recruiting the right ambassadors for a fundraising campaign is critical for ensuring your organization is being represented well, so is choosing your corporate partners thoughtfully on an even larger scale. When you join forces with a for-profit business, their actions and practices reflect on your team, too. Therefore, it’s critical that you don’t go forging partnerships with just anyone!

To get started, consider seeking businesses with similar missions to your own. For example, if you run an animal welfare organization, you might reach out to companies selling pet food or other products. If you work for a food bank, you might consider local grocery stores or restaurants. 

Corporations that have been philanthropically minded in the past might offer a good jumping-off point here. Just be sure to do thorough research before getting deeply involved. After all, the funding you might receive is not going to be worth tanking your organization’s hard-earned reputation by way of a poorly constructed partnership. 

2. Avoid coming across as insincere. 

A big concern with cause-related marketing strategies is that, when not done well, the organizations involved can be seen as hosting a cheap marketing ploy or scam. This often occurs when communications surrounding the partnership focus on emotional manipulation or guilting the audience into giving.

To avoid this negative light on your organization and its mission, be sure to communicate the impact of your partnership so that your audience understands its purpose. For example, you can incorporate real success stories about people who have benefited from your services. In doing so, you remind potential supporters and customers of the philanthropic need behind your organization rather than functioning as just another request for money. 

3. Spread the word about your partnership.

While a lot of awareness about your cause-related marketing will likely come from your corporate partner, don’t forget to communicate the relationship and campaign specifics to your supporters as well. 

Here are a few ideas to get the word out about your cause marketing efforts:

  • Include details in your organization’s newsletter. If you already send updates to supporters in a regular newsletter, whether physical or digital, be sure to include a snippet about the campaign.
  • Send a postcard. A postcard in the mail can be a simple way to grab your audience’s attention and share basic details about your partnership. Since a postcard contains a limited amount of space, be sure to direct readers to another resource where they can learn more about getting involved. 
  • Share information on your social media profiles. More than likely, your organization has profiles on major platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Use these social networking sites to spread the word and encourage your followers to do the same. 
  • Update your nonprofit’s website. Your website is the main hub for information about your organization’s mission, services, and fundraising efforts. Create a dedicated web page that includes information about your cause marketing efforts, and be sure to link to your partner’s website as well!

By taking the time and effort to market your cause marketing partnership, you can increase the impact that your campaign has on your organization’s bottom line. The more people who hear about it, the more you’ll raise for your mission and the more your business partner will benefit as well! 

If you’re considering taking part in a cause-related marketing campaign, following these best practices is a great way to set your team (and the corporation’s!) up for continued success. 

All in all, cause-related marketing strategies have the potential to drive dedicated organizations forward—both nonprofit and for-profit businesses alike. To get started as a nonprofit, be sure to keep an eye out for philanthropic-minded corporations and see where these partnerships can take you. Best of luck!