Cause Marketing:

Fundraising's Most Misunderstood Term

By Joe Waters.

Even though cause marketing has been around since the early 1980's, most nonprofits – most people! – still don't have a good handle of what the term means.

They think it means anything related to the marketing of causes, or to business giving in general.

On Twitter, I frequently see tweets that say, "Great example of cause marketing!" that link to some clever piece of nonprofit marketing in print or video.

But I define cause marketing as a partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit.

Cause Marketing Explained! With great tips and ideas for fundraising with businesses!

The partnership is win-win!

The nonprofit raises money and awareness. The for-profit earns a halo that enhances their favorability with consumers, which may increase sales.

Cause marketing partnerships are also work-work, which means neither partner gets a free ride.

The nonprofit doesn't get a check in the mail that it wasn't expecting, and the for-profit doesn't write one expecting to be off the hook for yet another year.

Good partnerships between a nonprofit and a business are engaging, ongoing and valued.

To review: 

Cause Marketing = Fundraising with Businesses

There a lot of different ways for a nonprofit to get started raising money with businesses. I've identified 40 fundraising strategies.

However, here are three strategies that I've used with great success...

Donation Boxes:

Donation boxes (aka coin canisters) are a simple fundraiser that any business with good foot traffic can execute. They're an excellent first-time fundraiser for new business partners.

A misconception about donation boxes is that they aren't money-makers.

I know that isn't true because I used to raise $25,000 with donation boxes from just one business partner. Another national nonprofit I know raises a million dollars with donation boxes!

Tip: Target busy stores where cash is king. A car dealership or jewelry store - where people use credit cards - is not the right place for coin canisters. Coffee shops, bakeries and convenience stores are a better bet.

For more information: Check out this Pinterest board of donation box fundraisers.


Store cashiers sell pinups (or paper icons, as they are sometimes called) for a buck or two. A common sight here in the U.S. during the spring are the green shamrocks of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Pinups are by far the most lucrative fundraising strategy for businesses. Even local fundraisers can raise five or six-figures in just a few weeks.

Tip: Target businesses that have lots of locations, registers and foot traffic. Incentivize cashiers to ask shoppers to give. Finally, get training on how to do this lucrative fundraiser right!

For More Information: Check out this Pinterest board of pinup fundraisers.

Purchase-Triggered Donations:

With purchase-triggered donations (aka percentage-of-sales) a business donates a portion or percentage of sale from a product or service to a cause.

For example, on World Aids Day, Starbucks donates five cents from the sale of every beverage sold to Product Red.

Tip: Choose a product that is a hot seller! I'm told coffee sells well at Starbucks. :)

Because the customer is making a conscious, independent decision to buy the product and support a cause, the nonprofit's name and work should resonate with consumers. In short, these programs are best for nonprofits with a higher profile or for urgent appeals.

For More Information: Check out this Pinterest board on purchase-triggered donations.

Recruiting a Business Partner:

Now that you know what cause marketing is, and three of its best strategies, I bet you're wondering how to get started.

The toughest part of it is recruiting a business partner. I like to say that when you have a business partner everything is possible.

So how do you find one?

Start with your existing sponsors:

Cause marketing is different from sponsorship in that you're not just getting a company check. The company is marketing your nonprofit to its customers and employees and asking them to support you.

In short, sponsorship doesn't preclude a company from cause marketing. It's actually a better option because the money comes from customers and employees - and not from the company.

And here's the kicker: you'll raise more money and the business will benefit more from the partnership.

Who do your supporters work for?

Everyone works for someone. But nonprofits tell me all the time they don't have company supporters, just individual supporters. But knowing who these individuals work for can lead you to a great business partner.

I recently spoke with a nonprofit who complained they didn't have any business supporters. I looked at their list of board members and found that one member was the founder of a large retail chain.

While the nonprofit knew the individual was wealthy, they never thought to ask where they made all their money!

Check out the businesses that work for you:

Vendors are a great place to find corporate partners. You already have a relationship with them and they're motivated to support you.

I once landed a pact with a large office supply that was also a vendor. Doing business with them didn't seal the deal, but it did get me in the door. And sometimes that's all you need.

Business partners aren't so much found or recruited as they are detected. We're often so busy looking for a business partner that we don't realize one is right in our midst!

As Sherlock Holmes used to tell his friend Dr. Watson: "It is not enough that we see. We must observe."

Your first or next cause marketing partnership is closer than you think.

By Joe Waters

Joe is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit author, blogger, speaker, consultant and online trainer.

His focus is on nonprofit and for-profit partnerships (fundraising with businesses), and he writes the web's leading cause marketing blog,

His latest book, "Fundraising with Businesses: 40 New (and Improved!) Strategies for Nonprofits", is fast becoming the leading resource in cause marketing fundraising ideas. I'd definitely suggest  you check it out.

And I just want to say a BIG THANK YOU to Joe for writing this phenomenal guest post!

- Rob

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› Fundraising With Businesses

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