By Jocelyne Daw
Recently I was asked, what book changed my life? I’m a reader, and a large number of books have influenced my thinking. But a single book alone hasn’t changed my life. Instead, it was reading “Filthy Rich and Other Nonprofit Fantasies” and the resulting cause marketing experience that did. This is the story of that transformation and what I learned along the way. The year was 1988 and I had just been appointed founding Executive Director, Canadian Parks Partnership, (CPP). We were the national umbrella group for volunteer “friends” organizations supporting individual national parks and historic sites education and preservation mandate.Our national mission was to support and grow these groups. As an additional challenge, we aimed to connect with Canadians beyond the park gate - in major urban centers to engage their support. With no money and limited infrastructure this seemed a particularly daunting task. That is until I attended a presentation by Richard Steckel, and read his book Filthy Rich and Other Nonprofit Fantasies.Richard Steckel was my introduction to cause marketing. The concepts he presented were magical - a way business and community organizations could work together to create mutual benefit. Where business could put the power of its marketing and brand behind the organization’s cause to create profits and promotion for both. Partner + purpose + passion = profits. As some of you may know, those are my cause marketing four Ps.But like many book ideas, they are only concepts until they can be brought to life. Inspired by what I learned, our national board and Parks Canada partners put together a strategic plan to proactively seek corporate cause marketing partners. In 1989 (when we finished and had approved the strategy), this was truly a new way of thinking. With a risk management structure in place that ensured good governance along with our innovative thinking, we set out to seek cause marketing corporate partners.As luck would have it, Post Cereal was launching a new cereal Fruit and Fiber. Designed for health conscious consumers this group also expressed a strong interest in the outdoors and the environment. It was a natural alignment. Through a series of well-timed serendipitous events, we were offered the opportunity to be the 1990 – 1991 winter cause promotion for the cereal.What did this look like? The back of 3 million cereal boxes featured our chosen message. A national in-store campaign with life-size posters of parks and a national contest for five Canadian couples to have a weeklong adventure in a national park supported the promotion. Enthusiasm and involvement from the parks and friends added a behind the scenes tour with the park warden and superintendent, as well as a membership in the local friends group.Any one who eats cereal knows that reading the box is as natural as pouring milk into the bowl. A captive audience of like-minded people provided us an opportunity to share our messages and invite Canadian to learn more. Before the days of Internet and social media, people wrote us by the hundreds. They joined friends group and learned more about national parks. Our supporter database was activated and our first major corporate cause contribution was banked.But it was that summer the icing was put on the cake – so to speak. One of the couples that had won a national park trip, through this cause marketing initiative, was getting married. Rather than have wedding guests give gifts, each was asked to donate to our organization. We received thousands of dollars from guests from one end of the country to other. Between the support of Post cereal and individual donors, our small but mighty cause movement was starting to grow.Much has happened in cause marketing over the past twenty years. Yet, the core principles have not changed. Here are the seven golden rules that I learned through that campaign and have applied to numerous cause-marketing initiatives throughout my career.1. Articulate your brand: A well-defined and clearly articulated brand defines what an organization stands for, what they do, and how they are different in a very competitive marketplace. For a nonprofit, it helps begin the process of considering associative links and potential partners.For a corporate partner, a clear nonprofit brand quickly boils down how there could be a fit. Secondly, strong brands that stir an emotional response and reflect a company’s own passion and values is compelling. Finally, a well-defined brand meaning makes a simple message easier to communicate and understood.2. Build from the inside out: Before seeking partners prepare on the inside. This includes understanding what assets you and cannot bring to the table, putting the processes and procedures in place for success and formalizing internal buy-in and support.3. Align for success: Seek partners with shared value and shared values and strong brand and DNA alignment. The stronger the alignment and fit, the stronger the cause marketing campaign and relationships – plain and simple.4. Innovate with good governance: Innovation combined with good governance is essential. Once you agree to move forward, put clear, but simple agreements in place, and develop plans that succinctly lay out who does what, when, how and outlines dispute mechanism. Pro bono support from a lawyer can result in a template agreement that will strengthen the likelihood of success. One thing that can’t be written into an agreement is an understanding of each other’s cultural and organizational differences and practicing mutual respect. Both are vital to governing a strong and long-lasting relationship.5. Execute with rigor: Securing a cause partner is only the beginning. Careful execution and follow up is essential. A few guiding principles: firstly under promise and over deliver; next communicate, communicate, communicate; and finally manage the relationship not just cause program. Your success in execution will determine whether your partner is a one-off or a long-term one.6. Celebrate success: Success should be celebrated. Bring partners together to recognize the great work being done, to communicate to internal and external audiences and to build pride. Having measurements and expected outcomes in place provides success milestones and sets the stage for future years. 7. Learn and evolve: Wrap up meetings can mean key learning can be used to evolve and grow together. Asking “What did we learn? How do improve what we’re doing? What’s next?” will keep the partnership and cause marketing initiative fresh and relevant.