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Good Causes Can Be Good for Business

Cause marketing allows merchants to connect with customers.
cause-ribbons

Sometimes good business is not just about turning a profit but giving a little bit of it away, too. Those who sponsor community causes often discover a harmonious link between give and take. It may go to show that if you promote it, they will come.

Businesses across the U.S. work with nonprofit organizations to raise awareness while cross promoting their respective industries. This form of cause marketing has grown 51 percent over the past decade, according to the Cause Marketing Forum (CMF). That’s because consumers are drawn to products that support a good community cause.

Studies indicate the rising generation is becoming more active in cause campaigns. According to CMF, 93 percent of consumers “want to know what companies are doing to make the world a better place.” These statistics encourage businesses that cause marketing is a valid business strategy.

Not that companies are doing it just for self-promotion, but it does help. Regardless, consumers appreciate putting their money into a product that benefits the nonprofit and the business promoting it, as well as themselves.

Cause marketing: Doing well, and doing good

Consumers want to know what companies are doing to make the world a better place

The success of such partnerships is the basis for the annual Cause Marketing Halo Awards, presented by CMF. Last year, 18 companies were honored for successful sponsorships that boosted nonprofits in areas ranging from social services to world hunger.

“Cause marketing, the creation of programs that pay financial and social dividends, has grown tremendously over the past 10 years,” CMF President David Hessekiel noted at the time. Last year’s winners “demonstrated creativity, innovation and excellence in campaign execution, and results for companies and causes.”

In addition to the nine categories of awards, CMF also presents one other award to a nonprofit and a business for their extraordinary efforts. Last year, eBay became the first e-commerce company to win the Cause Marketing Golden Halo Award for Business thanks to the company’s Giving Works program. eBay was recognized “for embedding giving into the world’s largest online marketplace, for sharing proof that doing well and doing good can go hand in hand in cyberspace, and for helping thousands of nonprofits raise hundreds of millions of dollars,” CMF reports.

Among the thousands of fundraisers benefitting nonprofits through eBay Giving Works is the Bling My Bra campaign, an annual event that supports Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Handcrafted, themed-art bras are auctioned off during the month of October, and 84 percent of the proceeds are donated to help fight breast cancer.

eBay seller Beth Cherkowsky founded Bling My Bra, and everyone on the board of directors is an eBay seller as well, says board member Betsie Bolger.

“But even if we weren’t eBay sellers to begin with, we would choose Giving Works over any other venue,” she says.

A number of companies, e-commerce writers and eBay sellers have participated in the campaign, “both for the sake of doing good and to benefit from the added exposure,” Bolger says.

This allowed Bling My Bra to raise $3,000 during its first year and more than $6,000 the following year. The group’s goal is to make it to the $10,000 level. That’s a lot of support, especially when you consider it’s all raised in one month.

Connecting with customers through causes

Cause marketing comes in different forms, and it’s not just for the big boys, either. Whether you are an eBay hobbyist or a full-time retailer, you, too, can grab hold of the cause-campaign reins and follow in the footsteps of those pioneers who have gone before you. Partnering your business with a nonprofit group benefits your chosen organization, and it adds a sense of trustworthiness to your company’s brand.

One entrepreneur took a different approach and now runs a successful business across the globe. Blake Mycoskie didn’t begin a business and then decide to start giving back. Instead, he founded TOMS for the sole purpose of giving. Mycoskie’s One for One program began with the question, “What if I started a shoe company and every time I sold a pair of shoes, I gave a pair away?”

TOMS customers caught the vision and within just the first year, Mycoskie delivered 10,000 pairs of shoes to children in Argentina.

By supporting a business that returns profit back into a community in need, consumers feel like they are a part of the solution. But it’s not only because they feel like a participant. Consumers also identify with organizations that they have a personal interest in. For example, some have a particular affinity toward animals and will be more likely to notice a company that is partnered with an animal shelter or abuse prevention service.
The first thing to do is decide which causes you have a passion for that would also fit well with your company

Another benefit to this strategy is your consumers are identifying with you when you support the same causes they do. There’s a synergistic connection to your costumers that you can’t otherwise obtain in any marketing campaign.

CMF reports that 75 percent of consumers want to see the progress their contribution is making to the cause, but 55 percent of those don’t think companies and nonprofits are showing the effect of the fundraising. With this in mind, online sellers have an opportunity to stand out by using their Web presences to post graphs, pictures, videos and more to show how fundraising efforts are impacting their community.

Integrating cause marketing in your business

Cause marketing has a broad range of possibilities. When planning to incorporate it in your business, the first thing to do is decide which causes you have a passion for that would also fit well with your company.

Part of this might involve knowing your target market. If you have a passion for services to the elderly, but your product line consists mainly of teen-centric products, there might not be a symbiotic relationship.

Once you’ve chosen a particular cause, brainstorm how you want to turn your sales into service. The most obvious way is to give a percentage of your sales to the organization, or use that percentage to buy tangible products as donations. If you sell pet supplies, you might follow TOMS’ example by giving one dog leash to the local shelter for every two that you sell.

If you’re more of a hands-on kind of person, let your customers know that their sales are supporting a business person who gets involved. Show them a picture of your annual trip with Habitat for Humanity or link to your blog that describes your company’s recent trip to educate the illiterate. Showing your customers how you care and give back will show them why they should care about your business.

Also, consider donating items to silent auctions. Kari Dunn, owner of EllaNora.com, uses her boutique to support causes that are close to her heart, such as childhood cancer and domestic violence.

“I want to be able to grow my business successfully so I can continue to generate profits that make it possible to keep donating to causes that are important to me,” she says.

Dunn is a stay-at-home mom who turned her love for shopping and her heart for supporting the community into a successful online business. She donates products to silent auctions as one technique of giving, and has discovered it’s a great way to promote her business and meet new contacts.

“In my personal experience donating to charity becomes very addictive,” Dunn says.

Need more inspiration? Get it from the pros. CMF compiled a list of the most influential cause marketing campaigns that “do well by doing good.”

About the author

Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.