Does Cause Marketing Really Depress Giving?
Recently, there's been a study by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business circulating that cause marketing — specifically when people buy products tied to charities — depresses charitable giving. While I don't doubt the research's validity, I wonder if it is truly representative of the majority of donors.
The reason? I don't think it's personally true for myself. In fact, I find cause marketing to have the opposite effect on me, at least some of the time. And despite working as the senior editor of FundRaising Success, I don't give what limited amount of extra funds I have to just any cause. Yet when I'm reminded of a great cause during routine purchasing experiences, it makes me think long and hard about donating money to that cause.
Take, for instance, something as easy as being asked to donate a dollar for a free taco. That's exactly what happened to me on Sunday. For all of you healthy diet proponents out there, please avert your eyes from what I'm about to write: On Sunday, I went to Taco Bell — gasp! — on my way home. No matter what your feelings are on the fast-food chain, my trip there was enlightening. When I pulled up to drive-through window after making my order, the cashier asked me if I'd like to donate a dollar to the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens' Graduate to Go program and receive a coupon for a free taco. I gladly did and received the coupon along with my receipt.
When I got home and finished my meal, I examined the coupon further. It incorporated a thank-you right on it — "Thanks for Your Donation" — and provided the URL www.GraduateToGo.com.
According to the study, I would have been content to donate my dollar, get my free taco and be satisfied that I'd done my part. But I was actually intrigued by the Graduate to Go campaign, which was described on the back of the coupon: "Thanks to your generosity, we've given $30 million since 1995 to provide at-risk youth with mentors and real-world experiences that will motivate them to stay in school and graduate to a better life." So I logged on to GraduateToGo.com, explored the site and made a donation.
I suspect I'm not alone. While cause marketing may depress giving for some donors, I'm sure it also encourages others to make further donations and get the thinking about philanthropy. I know that at times, I've been guilty of donating that extra dollar or knowing that part of my purchase was going to a cause and being content with that, never contributing anything else to those causes. But other times, like on Sunday, that cause marketing promotion pushed me toward exploring the campaign further and ultimately donating even more.
When it was all said it done, it came down to relevance, the core of every fundraising campaign. Donors will donate their time and/or money to causes that resonate with them. Some will resonate more than others. I suspect that it isn't necessarily cause marketing that depresses giving, per se, but cause marketing that doesn't resonate with those donors.
No two donors are the same. No two nonprofits are the same. And no two cause marketing campaigns are the same. The report very well may represent more people and more campaigns than I suspect, but I'm not sure that it should scare fundraisers away from exploring cause marketing relationships. Because when done right, it can help raise significant amounts of dollars for your cause and help critical programs do good.
What do you think? Am I way off on this? Does your organization avoid cause marketing? Has your organization had success with cause marketing? Should I be staying as far away from fast food as possible? Please let me know!