Earlier this year, I issued a set of predictions for 2011 about causes and corporations, including one that stated that corporate sincerity would be questioned. On Friday, a research study reveals that only 37 percent of Americans have purchased a product tied to a cause, even though 96 percent of Americans note two or three causes important to them.
Researchers cite Americans' "skepticism" that businesses are supporting causes that are aligned with their brands. Seventy-four percent of the individuals surveyed said there is a disconnect between the brand and the cause, while 67 percent believe that businesses are only supporting a cause to sell products.
I agree and suggest two additional explanations:
- Some causes are undermining their trusted positions by accepting dollars from and full cause marketing campaigns with businesses that are misaligned with their missions. Buckets for a Cure comes to mind. If the corporate partner and nonprofit mission are not aligned in terms of values, among other points, consumers register cognitive dissonance and ultimately distrust, cynicism, and skepticism towards both the cause and corporation.
- In the waning days of the recession and into the slow economic recovery, we heard lots of news about causes needing our assistance, especially because of the negative toll the economy had on their funding sources and the lives of constituents. At the same time, with corporate and institutional trust down, many corporations turned to cause marketing and partnering with the nonprofit sector or, generically, a cause to build trust, enhance reputations, and ingratiate their brands among consumers. The result? Cause fatigue.
Cause marketing and partnership between nonprofits and corporations is by no means over, but as a tactic, both parties would be wise to ensure an optimum alignment and clear strategy.
Nonprofits: does the tie enhance your brand? Foster your mission? Excite your constituents and donors? Or does it make you feel a little uncomfortable, even queasy? If you don't feel good about this partnership, if there is no strategic imperative, do not move forward and do not accept this money.
A nonprofit leader said to me earlier this year, "We don't need policies [around corporate sponsorship]. We'll accept money from anyone." Not for long, you won't.
Corporations: check your intentions. Are your customers and/or employees truly passionate about this cause? Are the opportunities offered by your potential partners' business changing, for your brand and for the nonprofit? Or are you unclear about why you should work with this cause? Or are your intentions a little more selfish?
A young nonprofit fundraiser asked me whether it was a good idea for her organization, which preserves farmland, to accept sponsorship from a real estate developer. Can you see that it's all about intentions here?
It's not easy saying no to an opportunity, but when it's not a good, solid fit, the tie will backfire, causing more harm than good, destroying trust. It's perfectly acceptable to say, "no."