By Emily Suess

Cause marketing is a type of cooperative marketing between a non-profit organization and a business.  But don’t confuse cause marketing and corporate giving—they are two separate things. In fact, a cause marketing relationship doesn’t have to involve a monetary donation at all.

The Benefits of Cause Marketing

Establishing a cause-related marketing partnership mutually benefits small businesses and non-profits. For starters, business owners have the opportunity to support an organization they truly believe in. Employee morale often improves when workers have the opportunity to give back.

There are direct and indirect financial benefits, too. Cause marketing can bring tax benefits if you donate money, products or services. It can also strengthen your image within the community, generating publicity and additional sales for your company.

Step-by-Step: Choosing the Right Non-Profit Partner

Marketing professionals have related cause marketing to marriage. A small business needs to find the right non-profit partner. Not just any organization will do.

As a business owner you need a partner that helps you improve your reputation with customers and boost sales. Your non-profit partner needs to increase public awareness for its cause and improve fundraising totals. If either partner discovers there’s no benefit to the relationship, the partnership is guaranteed to fail.

1. Generate a list of your personal contacts and their affiliations with local non-profits.

Does your accountant serve on the board of the local library? Does one of your long-time customers have connections to the homeless shelter in your city? Does one of your employees volunteer with a mentoring organization in your area?

When it comes to identifying potential partnerships, start with your existing connections first. It’s not impossible—but it sure takes a lot longer—to build a cause marketing partnership without having an “in” with someone connected to the organization.

2. Identify shared interests.

After you’ve generated a list of organizations with which you have some connection, narrow the list of potential cause-marketing partners by eliminating those with few or no shared interests. If it’s not already obvious what your shared interests might be, read over each organization’s mission statement.

3. Get in touch with the organization and work out the details.

Arrange a meeting to discuss the details of the partnership. Make sure you’re on the same page in terms of what each organization can do to benefit the other and in terms of the time and resources that will be required.

It never hurts to put something in writing. You might find that it’s helpful to set an end date for the partnership at which time both sides can review current arrangements and decide whether or not it’s beneficial to continue the partnership. And it has to be said: it’s essential that you research the non-profit before you make anything official. Verify the organization’s non-profit status with the IRS and identify potential conflicts of interest that might cause trouble down the road.

Done right, cause marketing makes business owners, employees, non-profits, customers and volunteers all feel good about doing good in their communities.