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Win-Win-Win-Win Philanthropy: Corporate Philanthropists, Advertisers, Marketers & Nonprofits Must Work Together to Achieve Maximum Impact

By Maureen Flynn on December 23, 2009No Comment

Corporate philanthropy trends are showing an increasingly significant amount of overlap among cause marketing, corporate philanthropy, public relations and CSR -  unsurprisingly so, as companies continue to recognize their potential to receive recognition not only for their brands but also for their community involvement.

These companies must create and execute the strategies necessary to maximize success in this domain; a good step in the right direction is in internalizing some of the key takeaways from a December 10 Advertising Women of New York (AWNY) panel, “Beyond Corporate Philanthropy – How Social Responsibility Drives Marketers’ Bottom Line Results.”

Sponsorship is out, strategy is in.

While corporate philanthropists have known this for some time, it appears that advertisers and marketers are starting to understand it as well.  Using philanthropic dollars to support sponsorships is a trend of the past.  Companies are trying to limit the amount of money they spend on traditional sponsorships, instead seeking out opportunities to partner with organizations and support initiatives that will help drive their businesses forward.  In addition, companies want their brands to be tied in to a cause that their consumers feel passionate about.  David Shiffman, SVP Media Research Director, Media Vest talked about consumers and their perception of brands, noting that “Consumers see brands in a different light… they will make decisions based on what a company is doing.”  This echoes what we know to be true based on data from the 2009 Edelman Good Purpose survey: it found that 64% of consumers say that they expect brands today to do something to support a good cause and that two out of three people (67%) would switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause.

Want people to know?  Tell them!

In order for the public to recognize a company for its good work, the company must be willing to talk about it.  Coca-Cola spent years supporting organizations in areas where employees live and do business and yet, according to Celeste Bottorff, VP Living Well, Coca-Cola North America, they didn’t believe in talking about it.  They recognized that the public wanted to learn more about their work and how they were supporting their communities, and as a result developed “Live Positively” as a way to talk about their philanthropic initiatives and identify the different buckets they support.  Today, Coca-Cola is recognized as a leader both for its creative cause marketing programs and its ability to align with causes that fit into the business; the work is communicated to the public through a number of media channels, most notably an interactive website,

Potential nonprofit partners are savvy consumers, too.

Consumers aren’t the only ones interested in the value of a company’s brand; nonprofits look to partner with strong brands that will bring additional value to their work.  “We must operate with the heart of a charity, but the mind of a business,” said Patricia H. Clemency, President and CEO, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York, who understands the importance of partnering with strong brands.  In her organization’s current partnership with Macy’s, Believe, children are encouraged to write letters to Santa Claus and deposit them at mailboxes located inside Macy’s stores; for each letter that is received, $1 is donated to Make-A-Wish to help grant wishes (for a total donation of up to $1 million).

Robin Reibel, SVP Media Relations Cause Marketing at Macy’s, noted that the retailer looks for nonprofits with a similar structure to Macy’s when trying to identify potential partners.  She feels it is critical for both the company and the nonprofit partner to set the strategy together in order for it to have the greatest, mutually-beneficial impact upon execution.

Two steps for measurement success.

Measurement and evaluation of programs needs to happen in two steps.  First, companies must evaluate how philanthropic dollars are being put to use and making a positive impact on society and second, they need to understand if the public is interested and engaged in their causes.  According to MediaVest’s David Shiffman, companies must first identify what they are trying to accomplish and then measure both the awareness of their programs as well as how they make consumers feel about their brand.

In sum, when companies launch cause-marketing programs, it’s imperative to recognize that consumers are their investors.  Ultimately, how they perceive a cause-program can impact how they feel about a company’s brand as well, and what types of consumer choices they make moving forward.

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