Cause Marketing: Increase Sales (and do a lot of good)
by Renée Magriel Roberts
As the mortgage foreclosure crisis has been rippling throughout the United States with disastrous effect, our town (Harwich, located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts) has certainly not been immune. With a year-round population of only 12,700, there were over 300 foreclosures last year and even more in other Cape towns. A lot of commercial real estate seems available too. Some really great and not-so-great restaurants are history. And every time any kind of job opens up, everyone and their parents apply. This being said, in the heat of the economic crisis, our international bookselling and publishing business, conducted entirely on the internet, was not immune. We took a hit like the bookselling trade in general and like the larger Cape business community.
So when President Obama said we should all dust ourselves off and re-engage, I took him to heart. Having written a very large amount of grants in previous consultancies and projects, now at age 60, practically semi-retired at a job that was only taking a few hours a day, I applied for and received a job offer to write grants for our area's largest housing agency. I figured that I could do my part to assist people who were in housing crisis by using my writing skills. This is a problem that affects each and every one of us, whether we are in the process of losing our homes, or not.
While working at the agency, $250K in grants applied for, $32K received in two-and-a-half months, I'm pleased to say, I realized that this non-profit had a dire need for what are called "unrestricted funds". These are receipts that can be applied to administrative costs or any other program or capital improvement area. Most donors are very specific as to where they want their donations applied, as are private foundations. Public funds are also quite specific. In considering how this problem could be solved I chanced upon one of many possible solutions that would also benefit my own business, and the businesses of others in our area.
The solution is cause marketing, and the Wikipedia definition is an excellent one: "Cause marketing or cause-related marketing refers to a type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a 'for profit' business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. The term is sometimes used more broadly and generally to refer to any type of marketing effort for social and other charitable causes, including in-house marketing efforts by non-profit organizations. Cause marketing differs from corporate giving (philanthropy) as the latter generally involves a specific donation that is tax deductible, while cause marketing is a marketing relationship generally not based on a donation."
What I proposed to my agency was this: that they set up as an eBay-approved charity under eBay's GivingWorks program. I would list some of my rare books in the normal way on eBay, with this difference: I would designate a certain amount (10-100%) of each sale as a donation to the housing agency, which operates the shelters for homeless adults, women and children, and homeless families, as well as providing a vast array of housing-related services, including mortgage foreclosure counseling, the relentless development of affordable homes, consumer financial education, and energy and weatherization so that people can afford to stay in their homes. Although the idea of working with a for-profit company was new to them, we understood that from an accounting perspective this really was no different than just accepting donations. And because, after set-up, there was no work involved except for counting the money coming in, it was not too difficult to convince my colleagues to try it out.
Since I routinely (and not happily) give over 15-20% of my sales to the sites on which I sell, it was a no-brainer to offer the same to an agency in whose work I really believe.
This is what we did: First I began working with a small group in finance and resource development. All three of us have passwords to everything we set up, so the operation is entirely transparent. The first thing we did was to go into www.missionfish.org, eBay's non-profit arm, and set up the agency as an approved non-profit. This involves submitting the IRS 501c3 designation letter and other materials related to the corporation and takes about 10 days.