Cause Marketing: What Is It and How to Do It Effectively

nonprofit fundraising nonprofit strategy

It was recently suggested by several industry thought leaders that, in the future, “all marketing will be cause marketing.”

Whether this concept comes to fruition or not, the focus on these efforts is without question, growing exponentially among nonprofits and for-profits alike.


Cause Marketing Defined

Essentially, cause marketing is a win-win collaboration between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit, often involving point-of-sale and/or percentage-of-sale programs.

As a result of this partnership, the “profit” for the nonprofit is visibility and additional funds. For the for-profit, the advantage comes via an enhanced image and an uptick in sales.

In some cases, a company will partner with a smaller, lesser-known organization simply because it’s a worthy cause. However, most businesses today seek out nonprofits and causes that are well-known and respected by consumers. It’s a double benefit because they’re supporting a worthy cause and a reputable nonprofit organization.


Real World Examples

Have you ever noticed those coin donation boxes at the checkout of your local grocery store, where the nonprofit earns cash donations and the business gains customers’ goodwill by supporting the nonprofit?

One well-known example of cause marketing can be seen in Macy’s annual Believe Day, which usually takes place in December. As part of the program, Macy’s offered double donations for its Believe letter-writing program, linked to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with the potential to raise an additional $1 million. People also could mail letters to Santa via email or drop them in mailboxes in stores, with each letter triggering a $1 gift.

Here’s another example: consider a popular potato chip company that offered 10 cents to a national nonprofit for every bag of chips sold. In return, the company gained the right to put the non-profit’s logo on their marketing materials. There’s also the partnership created via the National Football League (NFL) when it recently sold pink, game-worn gloves and shoes with proceeds going to breast cancer research.


How to Dive In

There are many steps to consider when launching a cause marketing campaign, but the first is to initially assess what your nonprofit has to offer a corporate partner.

For example, does your mission resonate with a particular company’s customers? Is there an upcoming event that could provide great visibility for your partner? Or, perhaps you have a relationship with a celebrity to feature in a combined advertising campaign?

Here are several best practices IPM urges clients to consider regarding their cause marketing efforts:

  1. Always include a simple – yet inspiring – message.
  2. Ensure there is a strong visual component to help tell your story.
  3. Consider a physical component to provide end users with a realistic experience.
  4. Allow for a strong emphasis on social sharing and earned media.
  5. Keep the focus on the issue with a very simple call to action.
  6. Create a public service engagement, not a public service announcement.

Take the time to incorporate cause marketing into your overall marketing strategy and you will improve both your visibility and bottom line.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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