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How to Start a Cause-Marketing Campaign

Four ways to give back to the community, while boosting business.

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Serving charitable causes in your community is not only good for your spirit, it can also become a deciding factor when customers choose where to spend their dollars. With consumers demanding higher levels of social responsibility from businesses, it's never been more important to focus your corporate giving into a cause-marketing campaign that motivates your target customer base. And when you create an ongoing strategy for giving, everyone wins -- the charitable cause you support, your customers and, ultimately, your business.

But the first step is to find the right cause-marketing strategy. Here are four ways you can share your corporate altruism with your customers.

1. Designate a product and donate a portion of its sales to charity. Also known as passive customer participation, helping a nonprofit this way is possibly the easiest and fastest way to jump into cause-marketing. It's essential to choose an organization your target audience will value and want to support. It can be a national nonprofit -- such as one that funds cancer research or cleans up the environment -- or a local charity.

It can be particularly advantageous to choose a local nonprofit to benefit from your cause-marketing efforts. Customers in your community are likely to feel more emotionally connected to a charity closer to home, which can result in higher sales.

2. Create and sell a symbolic item. This strategy asks the customer to take an active role in the giving process, and requires a more aggressive public relations and advertising campaign. It involves creating and marketing an item that allows customers to physically demonstrate their support for a designated cause. This can be an item they wear or carry, such as a tote bag, T-shirt or bracelet emblazoned with a supportive and inspiring message.

3. Sponsor a special event. If you're looking for a high profile way to support a cause, then creating a fundraising event could be the best strategy. Traditional events include everything from 10K runs and bike-a-thons to banquets. Keep in mind, the more creative you are with these events, the better your results are likely to be. For example, I recently co-produced and hosted an American Idol-style fashion show featuring local celebrity male "models" who created their own outfits and competed to earn audience votes. The sold-out luncheon attracted 300 attendees who voted for their favorite men and donated a significant amount of money. All proceeds benefitted a local homeless shelter for women and children, and my firm was spotlighted as an organizer.

4. Provide grassroots help. One tried-and-true strategy for lower-profile corporate giving is to donate staff time to make a difference in your community at the grassroots level. It's smart to align your giving with your company's primary business. This will not only aid the nonprofit you choose, but also help your customers remember what your company stands for. For example, each store in the Whole Foods Market chain donates food to area food banks and shelters and holds community giving days during which 5 percent of net sales are donated to a local nonprofit.

Finally, your cause-marketing campaign will require a dedicated public-relations effort to get the word out. This might include online and traditional media relations and the addition of a section on your website that highlights your corporate giving with links for tweeting and "liking” on Facebook.

When you let your customers know your business is caring and socially responsible, you serve your community and your company at the same time. 

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