Last Updated: November 14, 2020

Lightning-fast Internet speeds, mobile technology, and international business have brought the world closer together than ever before. With this closeness comes an awareness of the global hardships that many ignored in the past.

As consumers become more aware of the inequality surrounding them, they seek to make differences. Cause marketing – the cooperative effort between a for-profit and a non-profit for their mutual benefit – gives people the opportunity and knowledge they need to help. Profit-generating, powerful global brands have the resources to raise awareness of nonprofit organizations, while also promoting their product.

The principles of cause marketing refer to aligning a brand with a cause to produce profitable and societal benefits for both parties. These mutual benefits can include the creation of social value, increased connection with the public, and the communication of shared value, as well as profit.

Cause marketing is a relatively new field in the marketing arena, introduced in 1976 through a partnership between Marriot Corporation and the March of Dimes. The two worked together to promote Marriot’s family entertainment complex in Santa Clara California while raising funds for the March of Dimes’ cause – the prevention of birth defects in babies. The campaign was successful on both counts, and corporations around the globe followed suit.

Today, cause marketing campaigns run the gamut from large, global causes to smaller, local efforts. General examples of cause marketing include public awareness campaigns for breast cancer, licensing of charity trademarks for use in sales, and requests for donations in store check-out lanes.

10 Most Common "Causes"

  1. Donation with purchase
  2. Donation with coupon redemption
  3. Donation with activation
  4. “Proud supporter”
  5. Buy one, give one
  6. Volunteerism rally
  7. Consumer-directed donation
  8. Consumer pledge drives
  9. Dual-incentive approach
  10. Request for consumer action

*information according to Brighter World cause marketing

Because there are many faces of cause marketing, it is often mistaken for corporate philanthropy or social marketing when it is markedly different from both. In corporate philanthropy, businesses donate funds to a cause without the expectation of corporate gain. In social marketing, non-profit organizations use guerrilla techniques to try to impact negative societal behavior like pollution or drunken driving. (See also Social Marketing)

Who employs Cause Marketing?

Cause marketing is especially well-suited to companies that market their goods directly to consumers (See also B2C Marketing). Specifically, companies that sell physical products, displayed in stores and designed for purchase more than once, can benefit from cause marketing.

For example, General Mills created the “Save Lids for Lives” campaign for Yoplait yogurt which had pink lids for breast cancer awareness. General Mills has donated 10 cents for each lid returned to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Over $25 million dollars have been donated to date. These types of strategies are used to increase sales in a particular product and add to the amount of money contributed to a nonprofit.

Does cause marketing work?

According to Edelman goodpurpose 2012, 47% of consumers in 2012 buy at least one brand per month that supports a cause. This represents a 47% increase from the year 2010.

Sometimes entire stores (not just a particular product) will align themselves with a nonprofit organization to generate interest. For example, Toys ‘R Us has boxes available for customers to donate toys to different ”Toys for Tots” organizations that give toys to children in need.

A genuine and well-executed cause marketing campaign is one of the most useful marketing campaigns for both corporations and non-profits. A non-profit organization can gain increased funding, exposure and reliability by aligning themselves with a trusted brand, while corporations see increased brand loyalty, boost employee morale, and raise sales by ‘sponsoring’ a worthwhile cause. In fact, the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Survey shows that 87% of consumers are likely to switch brands (price and quality being equal) if one brand is aligned with a charitable cause. While beginning a cause marketing relationship can be overwhelming for both parties, finding and developing an effective partnership is extremely worthwhile. (See also Non-Profit Organization Manager)

Famous Cause Marketing Campaigns

  • LIVESTRONG bracelets, dreamed up by Nike and Lance Armstrong for cancer fundraising
  • Yoplait’s ‘Save Lids to Save Lives’ for breast cancer
  • Dove ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ in conjunction with the Dove Self-Esteem fund
  • Product (Red) created by Bono and Bobby Shriver to raise money for AIDS, TB and malaria
  • General Mills’ ‘Box Tops for Education’

What kinds of customers are effectively marketed to with Cause Marketing?

Because it is so inclusive, a majority of consumers are positively affected by cause marketing. The 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Survey showed that 83% of Americans wished that more of the products, services and retailers they use supported causes. People believe that when a company donates some of its profits to a worthy cause rather than adding to its bloated bottom line, that company is more deserving of their dollar. Through cause marketing, consumers are able to feel as if they’re making a small difference by purchasing a product that promotes a good cause.

Nothing builds brand loyalty and excitement like a company’s alignment with a worthy cause. For example, Tom’s Brand shoes will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair purchased; or Warby-Parker eyeglasses, which uses the same ‘one bought, one donated’ philosophy. Both brands have become status symbols that, frankly, the product would likely not have become without the cause behind it.

Recently, there has been a major ebb in the number of companies employing cause marketing. While this is largely a good thing, consumers should be wary of cause marketing campaigns that lack credibility. As a consumer, if you are going to purchase a product because of its alignment with a cause that you care about, it is worth researching the partnership to make sure it is legitimate.

How is a cause marketing plan developed and implemented?

A strong cause marketing partnership often relies more on press, word of mouth and re-allocation of funds rather than brand overhaul (See also Word-of-Mouth Marketing). By involving consumers through engagement, a cause marketing team can create awareness of both brands. Talented marketers will be able to tug on consumer heartstrings (and wallets) without pouring unnecessary funds into marketing. To increase the chances of success, cause marketers should pay attention to:

  • Authenticity: Is there a brand or non-profit whose goals align in any way with yours? Often, cause marketing campaigns are more successful if their partnerships immediately “make sense” to consumers.
  • Familiarity: When both brands are known and trusted among a consumer group, the chances of their trustworthiness being multiplied in partnership is even greater.
  • Branding: Think about the Susan G. Komen pink ribbon, LiveStrong yellow, or the WWF earth logo. A powerful branding message carried across all platforms will increase your cause marketing campaign’s message and exposure. (See also Brand Marketing)
  • Press coverage: Local and national press coverage is a great, cost-free method for increasing exposure of your partnership. Invite the media to any cause marketing events you put on, and you will increase the visibility of your campaign to your consumers, free of marketing dollars and manpower.

What types of careers work with cause marketing strategies?

Non-profit Program Managers

What do they do?

Salaries in the Cause Marketing Field

  • Non-profit Program Manager
    Entry level: $30,599 Experienced: $66,299
  • Cause Marketing Manager
    Entry level: $57,750 Experienced: $112,800
  • Brand Director of Cause Marketing
    Entry level: $30,000 Experienced: $180,000+

The non-profit program manager ensures that there are sufficient funds for the non-profit organization to sustain itself and perform its charitable functions smoothly. Non-profit program managers are in charge of the transfer of money from donors to their cause, and the coordination of employees and volunteers for the benefit of the organization.

A large part of the program manager’s job is to manage the daily activities of the program to ensure the success of fundraising for the organization’s cause. The program manager’s duties may involve grant-writing, traveling to meet with donors, overseeing fund implementation and interacting with co-workers to provide status checks on the state of the program.

Education and Skills

Usually, a program manager at a non-profit will have at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing, social work, public administration, or a similar field. At some larger organizations, a master’s degree and multiple years of experience may be required.

First and foremost, program managers need to be comfortable making public appearances on behalf of their organization, as they generally become the face of their cause. They need to be comfortable working independently and thinking outside the box to raise funds. Additionally, it is important for program managers to have excellent organizational, interpersonal and communication skills.

Cause Marketing Manager

What do they do?

Cause marketing managers are responsible for securing and managing marketing and brand partnerships. They are responsible for providing continued support for their brand partners as the relationship enhances both organizations’ financial success and credibility.

The cause marketing manager is responsible for setting and meeting cause marketing goals and creating an awareness of the partnership outside of the organization. As such, this role requires the ability to be assertive as an individual, work as part of a team, and communicate effectively both orally and in writing.

Education and Skills

Most cause marketing managers have at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing, public administration, business or social work. Cause marketing managers will begin in general entry-level marketing or non-profit positions and work their way up the career ladder.

Brand Director of Cause Marketing

What do they do?

The brand director of cause marketing focuses on the management of overarching cause management campaigns. For example, cause marketing campaigns like the pink ribbon for breast cancer, which stretches across many brands, needs a brand director to ensure that the campaign is being marketed correctly across all partnerships.

The key responsibilities of a brand director of cause marketing include relationship building, client service, and new business development. He or she will be responsible for cause marketing consulting, planning and execution, as well as budget tracking and brand-wide communication tactics.

Education and Skills

This position requires at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing or a related field, and sometimes 3-5 years of experience in the cause marketing industry. A brand director should be passionate about fundraising, have an ability to execute big-picture goals, and have excellent verbal, written, organizational and interpersonal skills.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

A degree in marketing can provide a foundation for a career in many positions and fields, including cause marketing(See also Careers in Marketing). Because many organizations that employ cause marketing on the non-profit side cannot afford to employ dedicated cause marketers, their general marketing employees often have opportunities to take on these roles. Alternately, enterprising marketing professionals may be able to build themselves a cause marketing career from scratch by presenting the benefits to a corporation.

Regardless, an effective marketing program gives students the expertise to figure out what consumers want from a cause marketing partnership, and the skills to produce and deliver it to them in an efficient, pleasing manner. A degree in marketing will involve the functions of advertising and selling, as well as an education in strategic business function, statistics and analytics.

The best way to pursue a career in cause marketing is to earn a marketing degree. Although the industry also involves a lot of philanthropic work, that aspect of the career comes from passion and experience rather than education. Most organizations that hire cause marketers require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in marketing, along with volunteer experience with non-profit organizations. It is important to earn a degree from a marketing school to ensure you have the proper background knowledge upon which to build your cause marketing career.

To learn more about how a marketing degree can help you build a successful cause marketing career, request information from schools offering marketing degrees today.