Cause Marketing: Increase Sales (and do a lot of good)

- by Renee Roberts


Our agency served an unbelievable 43,800 meals to people in need last year.

The next thing we did was to create discrete PayPal and eBay accounts for the agency. The PayPal account is linked directly to one of the agency's bank accounts. The eBay account is linked to the approved MissionFish account, listing the account as a "direct seller." This means that when the agency itself sells items on eBay virtually all the eBay fees are rebated. I set up my eBay account as a "community seller," i.e. someone selling on eBay who was going to direct part of her sales to the non-profit (This does have the additional advantage, by the way, of rebating to my company a percentage of eBay's fees whenever I set up a listing with a donation).

Next we set up a completely open and non-threatening trial run. We wanted to keep it simple so that we could see if there were any issues that needed to be addressed. I selected 5 items from our rare book collection and put them up on eBay, using the Sunday-to-Saturday cycle. Since my items were of particular interest to buyers in the United Kingdom, I made the end-time within the parameters of a British evening. I designated 10 to 25% to the non-profit for each listing.

In our first week, we sold $1,000 worth of material, and donated $150 to the agency. And we also received some warm and encouraging email. MissionFish automatically collects the donation from the vendor. Note that this takes a little time. I made the mistake of manually paying my agency the donation amount, but we had to reverse the transaction because MissionFish was going to duplicate it. At the same time, one of my colleagues at the agency, who had been selling odd items for them on eBay, was using the new accounts and non-profit status to more profitably do what she was doing.

With a successful experiment behind us, I designed a marketing plan to expand eBay sales. After a quick search on eBay's advanced search engine, I realized that there were thousands and thousands of both casual and extremely serious eBay vendors within 25 miles of our location. These are folks selling all manner of things, some for very high prices.

The marketing plan has multiple parts. The first thing I did was to identify the ways in which the agency could be driving sales to the listings benefiting it on eBay. eBay creates a unique "home page" for each charity on its site, with a logo and a mission statement. It lists all the auctions currently benefiting the charity. One can also designate key words (like "homeless", and "mortgage foreclosure") which can be searched, as well as the location and name of the agency.

In our case, we identified the agency's web site, email blasts and appeals routinely sent to existing and prospective donors, and the media, pointing people to the agency's home page on eBay. We are aiming for about $2500/week net to the agency in eBay sales, all in valuable unrestricted funds. And for our company's part, we are more than happy to be participants. This is a win for us, a win for the agency, and most importantly, a win for our community and our friends and neighbors in crisis.

For more information on cause marketing, I will be more than happy to answer questions with a modest donation to my agency, which helped over 7,000 local families last year, and served an unbelievable 43,800 meals.

Renée Roberts can be reached at