Program design is critical to cause marketing success. Thinking through these approaches (and their requirements) can help you make the most of your program.
Aligning your brand with a cause isn’t always as easy as it seems. You have to consider your budget and timeline, what will resonate with your audience, and the legal requirements where you do business.
Finding the right program design is a critical first step. Here are five of the most common ways to design your cause marketing program—and considerations to keep in mind.
1. Donate a percentage of sales.
Promotions where a purchase unlocks a charitable donation are quite popular. They link your brand’s success with social impact, which can infuse new purpose into everything your company does. These promotions need to follow commercial co-venture laws that can vary by state or province. It may be worth the extra set up—from our experience, this type of cause marketing campaign raises the most funds. If you have customers in the US or Canada, or you sell globally online, you’ll have to file some paperwork. No matter where you sell, you will also forecast your costs. This enables you to be transparent about how much you’ll donate to your nonprofit partner. If you seek to donate “proceeds” after expenses, be sure that you can calculate that in dollars or as a percentage of the price.
2. Engage your followers on social media.
If you have an active audience, a Twitter or Instagram campaign can help bring new awareness to a cause. Donate when someone takes an action, such as tweeting your hashtag, signing a petition, or posting their picture on social media. For example, Dove co-founded a coalition to champion The CROWN Act, an effort to end race-based hair discrimination in the US. Dove then encouraged consumers to join them by signing a petition. This encourages new vocal supporters of your chosen cause. Just keep in mind that social media contests, such as sweepstakes, may have their own legal obligations.
3. Give a leading gift.
The idea here is to start with your own generosity, and your customer base may follow. You can link your brand with a cause without tying donations to consumer purchases. For example, let’s imagine your leadership wants to raise $100,000 for climate action through the sale of a new shoe made of recycled fabrics. If the legal requirements for this sales promotion are too tricky, you might instead donate $100,000 upfront. Consider using the shoe’s design and marketing to raise awareness. You may see a surge in sales when consumers notice your commitment to a cause.
4. Make it easy for customers to donate.
Simplify the process for customers to donate by adding options to donate at checkout, “round up” their cart and donate the difference, or offer coupons or incentives for their next purchase. Another way to link your brand with a cause is to offer to grow your customers’ impact by donating when they do. This will be most successful with urgent and timely causes, such as natural disaster relief, at generous times of year (like Ramadan or #GivingTuesday), or with a particularly generous match offer.
5. Allow your philanthropy to transform your business model.
Innovative companies of all sizes are learning about unmet needs through their relationships with nonprofits. In addition to donating money, they are creating products and services to address community challenges. Let’s take the example of a restaurant that wants to address children’s hunger. Rather than donating a portion of sales to a local food bank, the restaurant might make a grant. The restaurant might then work with the food bank to add an affordable and nutritious kid’s meal to their menu. They might invite the food bank to refer parents who have limited access to steady employment in their communities and can’t afford nutritious food to apply for their open jobs. Another example was seen in COVID-19 relief efforts, where companies donated and also redirected their resources toward producing masks, sanitizers, and face shields.
Let these cause marketing approaches inspire you to get started with planning your social impact.