Creating a successful cause marketing partnership can, in some ways, be like harnessing a white whale. It’s not impossible, especially with our modern sense of innovation, but it’s not exactly something you can just decide to do. It takes thought, strategy, and time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. After all, cause marketing partnerships are seriously beneficial for all involved parties:

  • The cause gains invaluable PR, an uptick in volunteers, donations, etc., and a reinvigoration of relevance
  • The business gains invaluable PR, extensions to marketing lifestyle relevance, increased brand loyalty, competitor conversions, and an increase in social engagement.

But again, it takes a lot of thought and a lot of work.

The First Step in Cause Marketing Partnership: Know Your Brand

Before you make a single phone call to a cause… heck, before you even make a list of causes you like, you need to interrogate your brand. Understanding what you do, how you do it, who your audience is, what their needs are, etc. is vital toward creating a productive cause-pairing. At a meeting that includes your CMO, product manager, content creator, social media team leader, and CEO (if he/she is available), audit your business to understand who and how your brand fits/contributes socially.

During this audit, gain an understanding of the following assets:

Your Audience

  • Who are your audience segments? What do they do? Believe? What kind of causes could they be interested in?
  • Are any of your segments currently engaged in a cause? Look to social media for an understanding of cause campaigns your audience may already be involved in.
  • Once identified for all of your segments, are there any overlaps? Any cause that extends beyond one segment or (with any luck) covers them all?

Your Business

  • In what way does your business help your audience? (Not, like, “we provide business card scanning solutions for professionals,” but more like “we use technology to facilitate networking”.)
  • Does your product or service have, baked into it, any inherently social / cause-related process? Starting from the core of your business and working outward (from, for example, your business model and working out to any tertiary features you might provide your customers), identify any functionality that translates into or mirrors a social cause.
  • Are there any causes that members of your executive team, board members, or advisors are already connected to / involved in?

Then, start looking for overlap. Basically, you’re looking to satisfy this formula: Appropriate Cause = Audience Need + Business Value. Many businesses force partnerships that don’t fulfill this formula, and the partnership tanks. You don’t want, for example, Snickers pitching a reduction in diabetes.

The Second Step: Matching Your Value to a Complimentary Cause

Once you have some idea of the type of cause that’s appropriate for your business to make a cause marketing partnership with, you move on to the next level: finding a cause that actually matches your audience + business. CharityWatch, an incredible resource for active charities around the world, will be of great value in your search. Poke around, make a list, and consider the following:

  • Don’t fall too deeply in love with a single charity. Make a list of at least 5-6 to reach out to in your initial round.
  • Charities aren’t always interested in business partnerships, or they simply want you to foot the bill toward what they see as a large-scale publicity campaign for them. Make sure that you’re talking with charities who are business savvy, who understand and respect the idea of the partnership as being mutually beneficial, etc.
  • Be sure that you’re partnering with a charity that’s relevant. Ensure that they’re actually active, not a tiny organization that pushed one initiative several years ago. The best laid plans will fall to pieces without relevance.

The Third Step: Approaching the Cause and Partnership Formation

After everything is in place, it’s time to pitch the cause. Or is it? Often, simply describing similarities between your business and a cause, or your idea of how everything fits together, isn’t quite enough to make a connection. Instead, you’ll want to work out a pitch for what you’ll accomplish, how you’ll accomplish it, and why?

When working out your pitch, you’ll want to consider:

  • What actionable goal are we looking to achieve? Remember, you want to think in terms of action here. It’s a lot easier to fail / be ignored when you’re “fostering a culture of change” than when you’re “providing X resources to X locations in X cities.
  • Local is best. Rather than trying to tackle the world or even the country at once, localize your initiative. Even giants like Salesforce don’t try to change everything; they know that, by changing local lives, they can have a global impact.
  • What are the steps you’ll need to take to achieve the goal? What will you do? What will you need from the charity?

And once you have it worked out, start pitching. Honestly, with all these components in place, the pitch shouldn’t be difficult at all.

However, once you’ve worked everything out with the charity, formed a solid partnership, and have a plan you all agree on, the hard part starts: actually executing it. For this to really work, it requires a significant commitment of time and resources; this campaign shouldn’t by any means come as an afterthought to your traditional marketing strategy. When executing these campaigns, you’ll need to develop and execute:

  • An event strategy, to demonstrate progress and build PR and local support
  • A social strategy to engage those who take to the cause
  • A marketing strategy to educate your audiences about your initiative
  • An analytic strategy for tracking donations, cause engagement-to-customer conversions
  • A long-view strategy that, even before the first campaign launches, begins anticipating future campaigns to keep the cause marketing effort relevant and engaging for its supporters.

An Example

Here at CircleBack, we’re in the process of launching a cause partnership with the Pay It Forward Foundation, and it’s really been a process. After deciding we were interested in pursuing a cause partnership, we had meetings: a lot of meetings. In them, we discussed all the different functionalities of the CircleBack app: how it makes networking simple, how it connects people and helps prevent losing contacts, and everything else under the sun.

But what really stuck with us was the operational principle behind CircleBack: that everyone who uses it contributes to the knowledge of our intelligence engine and, in turn, contributes to the accuracy of professional contact updates for everyone else. This idea of contribution, of paying it forward, stuck with us as we moved forward.

We had a pretty good idea that we wanted to reach out to the Pay It Forward Foundation (PIFF) but, before we could, we felt we needed a solid strategy. What can be gained by this partnership? we asked ourselves. What can CircleBack do with Pay It Forward that Pay It Forward can’t do for itself?

It was at that moment that we realized what we could bring to the table: contacts and reach. As with any startup, members of the CircleBack team are well connected and can get cause initiatives in front of executives in ways that smaller foundations just can’t. So after cooking up a simple idea, to donate copies of the book Pay It Forward to every middle school in America (thereby spreading a message of generosity and acts of kindness to children during their time of pivotal character formation), we were almost ready to approach PIFF.

We felt though that, before we could approach them, we needed a strategy: a strategy for fundraising, for evangelizing, and for getting people on board. We developed one (but I don’t want to give it away; you’ll see in the coming month 🙂 ), pitched to PIFF, and the rest, as they say, was history.

In Summary

Cause marketing is a lot of work. It really is. But if you develop an understanding of your audience, your business, and how, specifically, you’ll work with a cause to achieve a particular goal, you’ll find that your efforts pay dividends much longer than traditional marketing efforts, increase your engagement, and drive new adoptions.

Often times, good causes lie right under our noses, and we never even know it. Use the CircleBack app for iOS or Android to keep your contacts accurate and updated, and discover who you know that can help you make critical connections to important causes.