While in my previous blog entry about Cause Marketing I shared some of the potential benefits of cause marketing, don’t be naïve to think that there are not significant risks associated with this strategy as well. And they must be weighed when deciding to enter this type of relationship.

First you must choose the right business to associate with. You do not want to alienate your donors and jeopardize prospects for future partnerships. Always consider your mission and do not put money before it. And remember that cause marketing in NOT philanthropy. If a business’ goals were strictly philanthropic, it would donate the money directly to your organization. Recognize that the words, “giving” and “charity” are not found in the name, cause marketing. The underlying reason for entering the relationship is to reap larger profits. The non-profit wants to do good; the business wants to do well.

Also you must acknowledge that the partners do not share equally in the risk associated with the relationship. The business does not risk anything that is likely to have a long-term detrimental impact while the non-profit may be putting its most valuable assets, its brand identity and reputation, at risk. On the other hand, the business may want to associate with you and your cause in order to mend or enhance its reputation.

And non-profits don’t be surprised to find that there will be strings attached. It is not unusual for a business to want its name or products to appear prominently in your media outreach efforts and publications. Your stakeholders may view these activities as having sold out your good name. In addition cause marketing advertising may communicate misleading messages; such as that your organization has endorsed their products or that you will receive certain levels of contributions from business-activity. And be aware that the longer the relationship continues, the greater the risk the public will begin to perceive that your organization does not need as much public support; there is not an equivalent downside for the business.

So before entering into a cause marketing relationship, be sure to start by clearly defining each of the potential partner’s expectations. Seek out a partner who is sincere, authentic, committed and transparent. And finally, do your due diligence by considering the following points (appeared in “Nonprofit World” on November 1, 1999):

1. Your organizational name and brand are your most valuable assets.

2. This is a business relationship.

3. Do not come cheap.

4. Get the money up front.

5. Control all uses of your name.

6. Check every opportunity with your accountant and attorney to protect your non-profit status.

7. Get everything in writing!

8. Tell the public the whole truth.

9. It should not cost you anything.

10. Establish an organizational policy for cause marketing relationships

In conclusion, I certainly believe there are advantages to seeking out the right cause marketing relationship. I am proud to report that as board member I endorsed Meals on Wheels Greenville’s recent participation in a transactional direct marketing campaign with BI-LO.  During our March for Meals campaign each shopper was asked to make a donation to Meals on Wheels (Greenville and Anderson) at the check out counter. BI-LO was a great partner to be aligned with given our mission…and ultimately the Meals on Wheels organizations in Greenville and Anderson received a total of $145,000. So selecting the right partner led to a great cause marketing relationship.