Stop Killing Cause Marketing

When a student needs money for a school lunch, it’s of little or no consequence to them where the money is coming from. They’re just hungry and need funds. It’s not just school lunches, it’s student grants and scholarships, medical goods, tutoring, daycare, and so much more. The list of needs is infinite and, in a downed economy, it continues to grow.

Donations for Followers

When the earthquake in Haiti happened, the Internet was buzzing about all the monetary and physical needs that the country needed. At the time, I didn’t have a business. I was a single father and money was never plentiful. But the incident tugged at my heartstrings so I offered to donate money if I got to a certain number of followers on Twitter.

The backlash was immediate. People screamed at me that I was heartless and it was a terrible thing for me to do. I was absolutely astonished… I was just seeking to increase my authority on Twitter and this seemed like a worthy cause. I could have taken the money and purchased advertising on any number of sites to promote my account… but instead I thought this would be better since the funds would go to those who needed it most.

I finally gave up. I had so many people pummeling me that I withdrew the offer (and made the donation, anyways).

This has to stop.

I was recently speaking with the CMO of a large company who told me that he’d love to provide grants and scholarships to students in return for them providing content and promoting their goods and services. The backlash is the same for this strategy… many in the public screamed that his fat cat company was just exploiting the students and they should provide the grants and scholarships, anyways.

There’s only one problem… he can’t. There’s no budget for grants and scholarships. He can’t simply give money away that his budget requires him to be accountable for and to grow earnings on. He has to invest the money and get a return on investment on the funds. In other words, he has marketing budget and can use it for anything – as long as it leads to business results. He’s not running a charity, he’s running a business.

Many companies would love to do both

Instead, he continues to pay for pay per click, advertising, content and other strategies with businesses where he won’t be publicly maligned. It’s a total loss. The very critics who treat his company like a monster (and treat most corporations like monsters) are killing cause marketing. The money then goes to other big companies instead of helping where it’s needed most.

Companies are in business to make a profit, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t find opportunities to help those less fortunate, or the environment, or those in need. Stop killing cause marketing and recognize that there’s billions of dollars that could be spent to help those who need it most – but the company can only invest it if they realize there’s a return on that investment.

Stop killing cause marketing.

Here are some great examples of Cause Marketing

Great Clips worked with to find deserving teachers and surprise them with a classroom of their dreams. This video, part of Great Clips’ integrated cause marketing campaign, – is a first in the company’s history combining social, digital, in-store, in-home, TV, radio and print.


  1. 1

    “I mean if we only had a wheelbarrow. That would be something.” – Westley, AKA the Dread Pirate Roberts.

    Telling those in need that you’ll help but first you gots’ to get yours ain’t helping. It ain’t charity. It ain’t donations. It ain’t giving. It’s exploitation. It’s profiteering. It’s classic horse trading.

    That’s not true love. That s*** happens every day.

    Donate to the cause. Get your tax rideoff forms. Write your press release statements. Work with their PR team to make sure you get your word. Do it right.

    But mostly, do it for THEM, those in need. Do it because your heart yearns. Don’t do it for selfish gain. If you need a direct ROI on the ‘causal effort’ for those starving and suffering and crying and heaving and writhing in pain from injuries, starvation and dehydrating, wading around in diarrhea-soaked, dysentery-lined ditches and flood pools in the same clothes for 3 weeks, praying against their better judgment that they make it through the night amidst the looting and rioting and cannibalism, then you can’t afford it.

    Big company CEOs have this already earmarked in their budgets. Your “CMO of a large company” is either lying to you or is a dumbass. He needs slapped and voted out. Or he needs to spend the night with the victims. It’ll change one. Hell, we had a rainy-day fun at LM for such occasions. We also used our tools and talents to take time after work to help the community. Opportunity Enterprises was our favorite.

    Write a post. Send up a prayer. Give some pocket change. But don’t you ever try to pick up web presence market share and a few clients by piggybacking of the suffering and misfortune of others.

    You’re not a pirate. You’re not a black market dealer. You’re my hero. You’re one of my mentors. Your heart is in the right place. I know that. But these were one of my biggest fights during my Denom U days: giving to the cause vs. being recognized for the gift. This is why the CRM industry is going to get regulated in a few years.

    You don’t need all that short-term, horse-trading sh*t. You have one of the best voices in the industry. You have my attention, and that takes a lot to get. I sleep reading most of your peers’ rhetoric. You just need to have the courage to be as loud as those 20 on the tier above you and you’ll move mountains. Most importantly, you have the presence to make change. Use your gifts, not the gimmicks. DM New Media will be better off in the long run.

    And the world will be a better place.

    – Bromance for life


    • 2

      Ok, @natfinn:disqus – this is a ridiculous response and really not worth me responding. You insulted a good friend of mine in the conversation as well. Your perception of business isn’t as much ignorant as it is stupid. I’ve worked for many companies and had million dollar budgets – and marketing never had a budget for donating to charities, nor did any company I worked for get a “return on donation” that they could measure. But we DID have money for marketing. The point here is to be able to invest that money into a charity rather than another business that may not be as charitable. Your view is exactly the problem that I’m denouncing – it’s illogical. You’d rather a charity get NOTHING.

      • 3

        If you won’t listen to those who berated you for trying it and you won’t listen to me, then try donating $500 to victims of the Boston Marathon Bombers and buy me a Gumballhead every time they use the word, “bribery.” Because that’s what they call a public display of goodwill or support in exchange for cash.

        Charities not only get NOTHING when you try such an approach, most all of them won’t even take it. Why? They know that it opens a floodgate of donors expecting favors in exchange for cash. They end up spending more time dealing with donors than their cause. It leverages them and eases the way for deeper, darker favors that fall into the category of corruption. Slippery slope. That’s why there’s laws against it.

        Hi, I’m Nat Finn. BA in Religion, BS in Business. The millionaire agency clients we had at the ole’ agency – Sony, Samsung, Sealy, Trump University, TELEBrands – the originators of ‘As Seen on TV,’ Russ Whitney (whose clients include Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”), All Star Products, (whose products include “Snuggie”), knew at least to donate proceeds of profits to causes. They planned for it. Sadly, because the probably knew the economic upside of cause marketing. They knew the impact and they knew the frequency in which such an event comes around. It’s why I waited to reply. I’m just sad the event was so tragic.

        Please reconsider your stance on cause marketing. You’re too awesome. You find jobs for friends. You open up your homes to people in need. You spare dimes. You and your good CMO friend could do so much more. So much more.

        • 4

          Ok, I’m going to try this again. We don’t HAVE A CHARITY BUDGET. We have a MARKETING BUDGET. Either we get a return on investment with our MARKETING BUDGET or we go out of BUSINESS.

          So, you would rather the charity get nothing. I understand. And no, I don’t reconsider my stance. I would rather see businesses work and profit alongside of those who are in need than not.

  2. 8

    I like the alternate perspective here on fund raising and here’s why…

    My kid’s school has a “Dining for Dough” outing every few weeks. The premise is simple, go eat at such and such restaurant and that restaurant gives the school 10% of all sales for that evening. From Doug’s perspective, this is the same as the restaurant advertising “come eat with us on such and such night and we’ll give your local school 10% of our sales”. At the end of the day, the school gets 10% regardless of who makes the request.

    The difference here is in how people perceive the offer. When the school asks for our money, we say “we love our schools so let’s go help them”. When a business asks for it, we say “that business is just trying to increase sales my using my kid’s school”. Ultimately though, the end result is the same.

    I’ll admit, until reading this article and understanding the other perspective I too would have cried foul. Taking a step back, what’s the difference in the college student using a backpack or other gear with a logo on it? My guess is that their gear already has a logo and they aren’t getting any money for it.

    • 9

      That’s truly great insight @google-607b0d9455bf19307cf8bf2968785187:disqus – you’re absolutely right, the act is the same but the perspective is much different. The point isn’t to ‘exploit’, it’s truly to invest marketing dollars where it can have a return on investment. It’s fascinating how negative our view of business has become over the years. It’s a GREAT thing to have businesses investing in charities. Donations are fantastic, but donations don’t typically have a return on investment. So… unless I’m uber wealthy with money overflowing, I need to put the money where it will have a return.

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