Advice for Consumers

What should consumers consider when evaluating cause marketing promotions? Mission match. Company transparency. Charity legitimacy. Impact.

Mission Match

The most basic question to ask yourself when considering a cause-related purchase (e.g., Should I buy the fuzzy slippers or the ribbon-bedazzled eggs?) is to consider whether the company has any business at all being involved in the cause. In other words, do the missions of the company and the cause align? A company that produces environmentally-friendly products might mesh well with a community group focused on managing climate change, but why would the National Football League promote a cause marketing promotion focused on breast cancer rather than concussions or other sports injuries?

Company Transparency

Assuming the company/charity missions align, consumers should be able to get basic information about the company’s campaign:

What is the donation amount (e.g., 50 cents per t-shirt)? Vague terms like “profits” or “proceeds” are meaningless.

Does the donation require action beyond the initial purchase (e.g., log into a website, take a survey, mail a receipt, redeem a coupon, purchase another product)? Companies should not set up roadblocks to the donation.

What is the cap on how much money the company will donate (e.g., $500,000 maximum donation)? Has that cap been reached? Purchases made after the cap is reached results in profit for the company and nothing for the charity.

What are the dates of the promotion (e.g., April 30 to May 15, 2014)? When a company keeps selling the product after the promotion has ended, there is no donation from the sale of that product.

What is the specific name of the charity or charities getting the donation? “Supports cancer research” or “supports the environment” is not specific. If you don’t know where the money goes, don’t make the purchase.

Charity Legitimacy

After answering these basic questions about the company, a savvy consumer will also think about the charity.

Does the charity really exist?

How much has the company donated to the charity? And this should be tracked in real time.

Is the charity reputable, transparent, and accountable?

Are there any conflicts of interest between the charity and the company?

What will the charity do with the money? Will this action impact the “cause” efficiently and effectively?

Go to the Source

Even after assessing mission match, company transparency, and charity legitimacy, consumers would be wise to ask themselves:

“Would it be better for me to give my own tax deductible contributions to the vetted organizations I support, or give a small pass-through donation from a cause-marketing promotion that benefits a company more than the cause?”

At present, the answer is probably YES. There are no federally mandated guidelines for best practices when it comes to cause marketing campaigns, so it’s up to consumers to hold companies and charities accountable.

Related:

Jobs for the Cure: Does Your Donation Go to Cancer Research or Salaries and Overhead? By Ellen Leopold, Truthout.

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