Sunday, April 28, 2013

Causes can energize associations while engaging members

Coats 4 Kids, Bread Art Project, Canstruction & Trees 4 Troops: causes connecting community and  associations

Mark Athitakis, senior editor of Associations Now, asked me to comment on a story he is doing about a new campaign by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society called “Someday Is Today.”

 While not a true cause marketing campaign, it is a mix of web/social media/print/TV, and more.

Cause marketing represents a great program opportunity for trade associations and professional societies ... but, for a multitude of reasons many organizations have not dipped their toes into the cause marketing realm.

And, that is a missed opportunity to engage members, to fulfill your mission, to help a great cause.

Here are some of the excuses I’ve heard associations give:

  1. We’re not big enough
  2. We’re not a charity
  3. We don’t have enough money
My experience: size doesn’t matter. Associations of all sizes and geographies can engage in successful cause marketing campaigns. 

If you don’t “have” a charity or foundation, you can partner with one that fits your mission or you can start one as the National Christmas Tree Association did when it founded the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation to enhance the spirit of Christmas for kids, families and the environment.

Yes, managing a cause marketing campaign does take staff time and money. Commitment of volunteers, however, can offset some of the time and money. 

Three ingredients key to success:

  1. Great cause (with transparency and “fit”)
  2. Passionate participants (engage your members)
  3. Committed partners (either charity or corporate)

Here are four examples for associations engaged in cause marketing:

  1. The Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, the very small charitable branch of the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), has had huge success with its Trees for Troops campaign. It has donated farm-grown Christmas trees to about 122,000 military families since 2005. FedEx is a partner, providing all the shipping. The campaign engages more than 60% of NCTA members. Individual members and local chapters have created lots of local publicity which, when combined, makes the program a major story nationally.
  2. The Ag Media Summit, LLC, a single annual conference of three small national associations, hosts a charity event in conjunction with its conference. In 2011, they joined with Soles for Souls asking attendees to donate shoes/boots to the underprivileged. That campaign resulted in almost 300 pair of shoes (essentially one pair from 50 percent of its attendees) and also donated about $500 in cash. In 2013, AMS is partnering with Colvin Cleaners of Buffalo to host a coat, hat, glove, mitten, and scarf drive among attendees.
  3. Canstruction, which was created by Society of Design Administration, represents another locally-driven event that creates local publicity while helping provide food for hungry people. The organization provides these results on its website: “Canstruction pound count results are in! Canstruction exhibitions and competitions have brought in an outstanding 3,419,885.44 lbs of food for local food banks across the world. The tireless dedication of over 700 entering teams, thousands of volunteers and millions of spectators has helped us raise our pound count by almost 1 million pounds since last competition year. Because of the hard work of our chapters and exhibitors, Canstruction is able to prove everyday that one CAN make a difference.”
  4. The BreadArt project of the Grain Foods Foundation is a social media driven campaign that also provides food for the hungry via Share Our Strength. The Foundation provides key messages about grains, food and hunger throughout the website.

Here are six takeaways for associations engaging in causes:

  1. Find a cause that resonates with members and fits with your mission
  2. If you have them, engage your chapters
  3. Keep it short (no more than a day, week or month)
  4. Provide timeline for planning as well as time to engage/recruit members to participate
  5. Recognize that lots of local publicity creates major national awareness
  6. Be transparent: post “leader board” to track results

Here are some resources for those interested in learning more about cause marketing:

  1. Cause Marketing Forum 
  2. Joe Waters’ Selfish Giving blog 
  3. My causeaholic blog

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