From cause marketing to impact marketing

If "service is the rent we pay to be living," according to Marian Wright Edelman, then doing well by doing good is the rent that corporations pay for doing business.

If “service is the rent we pay to be living,” according to Marian Wright Edelman, then doing well by doing good is the rent that corporations pay for doing business.

In an era where information moves faster than we can consume it, corporations and nonprofit organizations are looking for ways to stand out, engage consumers, inspire action, and create a movement.

Everyone wants to be known for something. CEOs want to leave a legacy, managers want to inspire their employees, and everyone wants to make the most money. But not everyone understands what it means to actually make an impact. No longer can corporations exist just to make a profit. They must stand for something - and this is a good thing.

We saw the beginning of this movement when corporations began to shift from doing cause marketing campaigns tied to a product launch or a marketing campaign to developing “impact marketing” campaigns – programs tied to local community impact, employee engagement, and consumer interaction. Some nonprofits began to figure out they needed to create a model that allowed corporations to do that.

One example is Donors Choose – a nonprofit that handles donor relations in one of the most effective, high-touch, emotionally-connected ways I have ever seen. Public school teachers post classroom project requests, and then donors can choose to give any amount to a project. When the project is fully funded, the classroom receives the needed supplies and the donor will receive photos of the classroom, the project - if you give more than a certain amount, you'll also receive handwritten thank you letters. Donors are given a localized, highly personal experience that helps them not only see – but feel – the impact of their effort. 

Donors Choose has partnered with many corporations for various campaigns, but one of my favorites was a partnership with Microsoft Bing. They created several campaigns including a partnership with Oprah Winfrey that included Donors Choose gift cards for every audience member as well as a viewer opportunity that involved activating Bing's donation by using its search engine. It ran localized voting contests that allowed teachers and students to describe their needs on the site - visitors to the site voted for their favorite schools, and then a certain dollar amount was donated to that project. Here was a teacher appreciation campaign that engaged donors in sharing stories about their most inspiring teachers, as well as an Earth Day photo contest and other programs that actively engaged consumers in using the Bing product to activate Microsoft's donation to Donors Choose. Over the course of their partnership, public school classrooms received more than $1 million in support.

Corporations and nonprofits are learning to improve their partnerships by leveraging philanthropic contributions, engaging consumers to activate the donation, and completing the partnership cycle by making sure everyone knows the impact of their participation.

As Eli Broad was recently quoted as saying in the February 2013 issue of Inc., “Charity is just writing checks. Philanthropy is an investment where you want to see a return, whether its breakthroughs in scientific research or performance in education or broadening the audience for the arts. You want to see results.”

Dawn Wilcox is MD of Allison+Partners' social impact practice.

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