Give a Little, Gain a Lot: Philanthropic Marketing Yields Big Rewards for Small Businesses


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Branding is a big buzzword in corporate marketing. Creating a distinct identity for your company in the marketplace is about more than getting the word out about your products or services. At its best, branding includes getting consumers to feel good about who you are as a company.

One way big-name corporations seek to garner consumer goodwill is by linking their brand to a philanthropic cause. Consider these companies:

  • Home Depot promotes volunteerism and supports community projects such as refurbishing playgrounds and community centers
  • Wal-Mart supports numerous community programs, from literacy councils to youth causes. Wal-Mart has a core value of giving back to the community
  • Lee Jeans promotes Lee National Denim Day, which is the largest single-day fundraiser for breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment
  • ConAgra Foods has embraced the cause of combating child hunger. They have started after-school cafés which serve hot meals to kids who don’t have them at home
Each of these companies has taken on a cause and has incorporated it in their websites, their advertising, and their corporate identity. Why do you suppose these large companies link themselves to a cause? Their motivation goes beyond pure philanthropy. Consider these facts from the Cone Corporate Citizenship Study:
  • 86 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to switch from one brand to another if the brand is associated with a cause (same price/quality)
  • 8 in 10 Americans say that corporate support of causes wins their trust in that company
  • 86 percent say that they want companies to talk about their cause-related efforts
  • 88 percent of employees who are aware of cause-related programs feel “a strong sense of loyalty” to their employers
  • Two-thirds (130 million people) said they are more likely to trust businesses that are aligned with social issues
In a world where it is increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd, these companies realize that good deeds can also be good business. By tying their company to a philanthropic cause, they have been able to attract more customers, have better and happier employees, and stand out from the competition. These companies spend millions of dollars to integrate their vision, goals, products, and services with a worthy cause. As a result, these companies have reaped the rewards of loyalty and increased business.

“But wait, ” you may think, “I don’t have millions of dollars. I barely have a marketing budget. ” The good news for small business owners is that philanthropic marketing can be accomplished without large expenditures. In fact, you can usually develop an entire cause marketing program for less than $1,000 in initial costs.

First, you need to identify a non-profit organization to work with. Consider causes you feel passionate about, such as aid to children, hunger relief or domestic violence. Find a non-profit that is small enough to tailor a plan for your small business. The non-profit partner you are seeking should also need the exposure and money that your business can bring to it. Make a list of potential non-profits that meet these requirements.

Second, you need to determine why you are involved with a particular cause. Ask yourself, what is the goal for your cause marketing program? Are you trying to build up your reputation? Perhaps you are trying to retain clients you already have? Maybe you want to give teenage employees a reason to work for your company instead of for someone else.

After you have determined the cause and the primary reasons you are developing the program, you need to contact the non-profits you have targeted and find out if they are willing to work with you. They need to help you meet your business goals so that it is a win-win-win situation. You win by meeting your goals, the non-profit wins by increasing its exposure and generating more dollars and the cause benefits as well. Work with the non-profit to develop a low-cost program that meets your goals, that you can actively promote, and that allows you to embrace the cause in every aspect of your business.

What could this type of program look like? Let’s pick a business type to use as an example. Suppose you owned a hair salon and wanted to increase your customer base by providing women another reason to come to your store—something to make you stand out from the competition. You could work with a non-profit to create a program that you could implement in your store for very little money. You could commit to giving $50.00 a month to the program. You could offer your clients the option of contributing an additional $1.00 (above the regular cost) for every haircut as an additional donation to the program. You could also hand out brochures for the non-profit to every client so they could look at the program again at their leisure. You could put up posters promoting the non-profit in your store. When you meet other business owners, you could tell them about the cause. You could do a press release to your local newspaper that outlines what you are doing for the cause. What is the cost to you? The only cost is $50.00 per month to the organization and a little bit of effort. What are the benefits?

  • Your clients come back because they feel good about their haircut
  • Your clients recognize that you are doing something that is over and above the norm for a hair salon. They will recommend your store to their friends because your store stands for something.
  • You get a tax write-off for the $50.00 per month donation you make to the cause
  • You feel great about how your business is helping others
  • Your employees feel great about working for a business that stands for something
Remember, this is only an example. For each small business, a customized program can help you meet your business goals, help the non-profit meet their goals, and will ultimately help the cause. All you need is a receptive non-profit, a little ingenuity, and a very little bit of money and you can create a philanthropic marketing plan that will build a benevolent brand image for your business.

Lifeline of Hope ( ) has several low-cost programs that can help you benefit orphans all over the world while helping you build your brand. Chad Board is the small business liaison who will help you create and execute a program the meets your business needs. Contact for more information.


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