The Ten Commandments of Cause-Related Marketing

Cause-related marketing is a partnership between a for-profit and a nonprofit where each has something to offer the other, and both realize a benefit. When you select a potential partner that has a natural affinity with your nonprofit, the result can be added revenue, increased media exposure, public relations, or all three—for both partners.

To be successful you have to think creatively. In fact, think less about cause-marketing and more about partnering—becoming the partner of your corporate collaborator—and you will have more success.

So how about some commandments for becoming a partner of a corporation?

First Commandment: Understand your product and your value.

Not only must we understand what uniqueness we are bringing to the table in a relationship (our Unique Service Proposition, if you will), but we also must understand the value we bring to the table. Your brand is worth something. Make sure you know that and articulate that to your potential partner. It’s the value of your brand (and your ability to execute) that are worth something to a corporation.

Second Commandment: Understand business and how it works.

You don’t need an MBA, but when a partner talks about “market share” you need to understand the jargon. Our goal in relationships is to have the corporate partner say, “You aren’t like other nonprofits.” We must demonstrate an understanding of what they are doing—and that we can help.

Third Commandment: Follow classic account management principles.

Classic account management means that one person handles our partner’s account, and acts as that partner’s principal contact within the organization. A management team may be involved—during brainstorming sessions, for example—but when the partner wants answers, they know exactly where to turn. Remember, you want each partner to believe it is your only partner. We want each of our partners to think its project is our primary responsibility. Our projects with Microsoft, Major League Baseball, Crest, Circuit City and Finish Line, just to name a few, each have their own “account manager,” as well as a back-up person. When our partner calls, they get an answer. Even if their primary contact is out, the call is referred to another team member. There is no lag between call and response.

Fourth Commandment: When first meeting, leave the paper at home.

Some of our best proposals happen without paper. Bringing a written proposal, an actual document, to the first meeting gives your potential partner the option of saying “no.” At Boys & Girls Clubs, we practice “proposal-less fundraising,” listening to our partners and identifying their needs. Then, we draft a proposal with the partner. This gives the partner a sense of ownership in the project—something to feel good about. Though we do bring public relations kits and other information along on the calls, we don’t burden potential partners with too much reading material. At the same time, we make sure our partner knows what Boys & Girls Clubs is all about.

Fifth Commandment: Listen up!

Listening is a lost art. Everyone wants to talk—to get his or her point across. We learn a lot about our potential partners just by listening. This knowledge helps us make intelligent suggestions on how a relationship can work.

Sixth Commandment: Patience is a virtue.

Cause-related marketing takes time. It’s like planned giving—requiring an enormous initial effort but perhaps not producing immediate results. It took an entire year before the Coca-Cola partnership came to fruition. Major League Baseball took four years. But when you do come up with a plan, patience will be rewarded with a stronger, longer-lasting relationship—because your partner will have helped you create it.

Seventh Commandment: Cause-related marketing is an agency-wide effort.

When I took on fundraising for B&GCA many years ago, I was thrilled to find out that Roxanne Spillett (now our president but then the head of program services) understood the need to identify and solicit funding sources for the programs she wanted to implement. The same now holds true for every department at B&GCA. Everyone thinks about fundraising here. People constantly refer potential cause-related marketing partners to us.

Eighth Commandment: Cause-related marketing is about relationships.

All these “commandments” are nothing more than good relationship management. As the saying goes, people give money to people. Taking it one step further, people do more for those they like and trust and those who care. Cause-related partnerships—like all good relationships—are about caring for your partner’s needs.

Ninth Commandment: Cause-related marketing is about delivering.

The first time you do not deliver what you promised a corporate partner, it’s time to find a new line of funding. Corporations are willing to work with you, but only if you do what you said you would do. That means: Can’t be sure you can do what they ask? Say no. Tell them the truth. Failure in execution is much worse than telling a partner you can’t do something.

Tenth Commandment: Cause-related marketing is about becoming part of the business strategy of a corporation.

Where’s the big money in a corporation? Bingo—it’s in sales and marketing. The charity side may have some money for you, but the potential is much higher in sales and marketing. That means if you can convince your corporate partner your collaboration will benefit their business, you have a leg up (and the potential for a lot more money!).

Cause-related marketing really isn’t that difficult. Just handle the relationship, deliver what you promise, and provide value to your partner. Best of all, cause-related marketing is fun and exciting. The sooner you master it, the sooner everyone will benefit from its incredible potential.

This article was written by Kurt Aschermann, CMO and managingi director of the Corporate Opportunities Group for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. This article originally appeared in