June 7, 2009

I’ve always thought that cause-related marketing was okay. I mean who doesn’t like the Susan B. Koman pink ribbon campaign and the partner corporations? Or Bono’s Product Red campaign and my little red iPod? And the money that goes from my purchase, out of the corporate pocket, to help the charity. Pretty cool, eh?

I figure cause-related marketing is one of the tools in the toolbox. But it doesn’t substitute for charitable giving. I’ve said it before: nothing substitutes for charitable giving and the donors who believe in you and your cause and invest because of their belief and commitment.

So Angela Eikenberry’s great article “The Hidden Costs of Cause Marketing,” Standard Social Innovation Review (summer 2009) was illuminating and reaffirming for me. I urge you to read this article. Really. Read it!

Eikenberry refers to cause-related marketing as consumption philanthropy…when the charity and a corporate product or service partner for the good of the company and the charity. And the key thing here is consumption. I was gonna buy an iPod. I just bought a red one to be supportive and socially conscious. But the consumption came first.

Eikenberry quotes research (which doesn’t make us consumers seem all that philanthropic or caring, by the way). She articulates important issues and challenges our assumptions.

To use her own words: “Consumption philanthropy individualizes solutions to collective social problems, distracting our attention and resources away from the neediest causes, the most effective interventions, and the act of critical questioning itself. It devalues the moral core of philanthropy by making virtuous action easy and thoughtless. And it obscures the links between markets – their firms, products, and services – and the negative impacts they can have on human well-being. For these reasons, consumption philanthropy compromises the potential for charity to better society.”

Read the article. Talk about consumption philanthropy with your professional colleagues. What do you think?


About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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