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Charities and Marketing: Overview


Charities and Marketing: How do they interact with each other? How are they related? Should the two even be in the same sentence?

Let’s take it from the top. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there were 1,014,816 charities in the United States in 2010. These charities range from Health to Youth Development, and they raise a lot of money for their causes.

How do they raise their money? Charitable organizations fundraise through a variety of donation-driving tactics, like pay-per-plate dinners and annual galas.

With so many charities out there, how does a charity stand out from the rest?

As with many similar entities in our universe, there needs to be some point of differentiation, and for humans, that point(s) is frequently made with marketing. Messaging and positioning are important to stand out, and standing out can be quite profitable in the for-profit business world. For charities (not-for-profit organizations), though, the bottom line is the cause, and all money earned is (in a perfect world) spent towards eradicating the problem behind the cause.

Charitable organizations can be creative with their marketing. They can market their entity, their own events and fundraising initiatives, and even build out their own intellectual property to help them achieve their goals.

What happens when for-profit organizations combine with not-for-profit charities?

Cause marketing partnerships happen. There are many instances of these partnerships, where corporations/for-profit entities align themselves with a particular initiative or charity. The benefit is multiple: 1) a for-profit, by aligning with a charitable cause, is helping improve their image – showing that not everything is about the bottom line, 2) a for-profit has the opportunity to drive more business by differentiating the company in the marketplace, 3) a non-profit, without ever having to build out any infrastructure, is able to earn money by building on the success of a for-profit business, and 4) a non-profit is able to differentiate itself from other charities competing for donor dollars in the market place.

Who does this?

Major cosmetics brand, L’Oreal, has been behind a cause, ovarian cancer, since 1997. According to the L’Oreal Paris website, they have “raised $19 million to raise awareness and advance research for the cause.”

A separate example, where a for-profit company aligned its messaging and brand with a specific non-profit group, is between SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare (SKB) and the American Cancer Society (ACS). The results were not pleasing, however. SKB paid “$2.5 million to settle allegations that it used deceptive advertising, including a false characterization of its relationship with the American Cancer Society, to sell its products.”

A specific misrepresentation was cited as follows:

“The use of the American Cancer Society logo and the phrase ‘Partners in Helping You Quit’ to suggest that the nonprofit organization had endorsed the products when it had merely allowed SmithKline Beecham to display its name and logo in exchange for a fee.”

This is an excellent example of the special relationship between for-profits and non-profit charities/organizations. What does it mean to be a “partner,” when “the bottom line” means something different to both parties of the partnership?

I’ll let you ponder it.



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