Two weeks ago, we talked about cause marketing and how organizations are moving beyond ‘t-shirt logo marketing.’ It’s worth mentioning again that this was the single most common phrase we heard from our 60+ interviews with area business leaders for The Social Good Report: Profit & Purpose: “Our team is ready for something more authentic and engaging than pitches that put our logo on t-shirts or event signage. We want something that feels authentic and aligns with our business.”

This type of cause marketing feels stale to many nonprofits and private sector companies alike because it rose in popularity during a time when marketing was primarily a one-way conversation. Key marketing channels included radio, TV and print ads. Companies communicated through ads, hoping their latest campaign would be enough to persuade and sell through a narrow range of distribution channels. In those days, nonprofit-corporate partnerships (including t-shirt logos!) offered additional avenues for valuable exposure.

As social media evolved and content channels became more varied, buyers became savvier. Take Millennials for example, who came of age in a marketing-focused world. One 2014 study from The McCarthy Group showed that more than 84% of Millennials don’t trust advertising at all.

Driven by social media, content channels have widened and shifted the power dynamic between consumers and brands over the last 15 years, offering buyers more choice about how they are getting information and what information they consider reliable. For mid-sized and smaller organizations, this democratization of information has opened brand and marketing engagement that was formerly unavailable to them. It is no longer necessarily a matter of which brand has the largest advertising budget, but who has the ability to reach their target audience most authentically.

This is where our thinking on cause marketing needs to flip.

The value proposition is no longer about the number of eyeballs organizations are able to bring to the table – it’s about trust and engagement. This is the real value-add of cause marketing partnerships. Consumers perceive every pitch with a healthy dose of skepticism – partnerships with nonprofits bring several clear advantages to the table:

  1. Trust – When substantially more than half of consumers don’t trust what companies advertise, it poses some real challenges. Nonprofits bring to the table a trusted voice and mission that constituents have already bought into. Allying with a trusted nonprofit brand can inspire that same sense of trust, when the partnership is built on shared ideals and outcomes.
  2. Engagement – Nonprofits have a lot of experience activating their constituency on behalf of causes. Companies who align themselves with nonprofits gain a built-in audience that is often already engaged in an event or activity. For example, when Rebuilding Together of Greater Charlotte hosts build days at their Innovation Alley space, it creates opportunity for a brand to engage with people oriented around a common interest.
  3. Targeting – Today’s consumers and brands alike are moving away from the ‘more is better’ model and seeking more authentic brand expressions. Cause marketing partnerships can leverage the more personal relationships that nonprofits often have with their constituents and target specific interest groups. For example – when Giordana sponsors the 24 Foundation’s annual ride, they know they will be in front of a cycling-focused audience that appreciates their product.

Despite its evolving form, today’s cause marketing partnerships have more potential than ever to create exciting, authentic experiences that create wins for the private and nonprofit sector alike.


About Next Stage:
The current set of challenges for many business and nonprofit leaders are unprecedented and overwhelming – workforce changes, the impacts of the pandemic and social change.
For companies, Next Stage believes that the social impact efforts that already exist within their walls offer low-cost, high impact solutions to many of these challenges. We help purpose-focused business leaders build, leverage and expand social good efforts to build positive company culture, improve the bottom line and create a next generation workforce – all while making significant community impact.

For nonprofits, changes are coming fast including increased need, changing service models and shifting social priorities that require increased nimbleness and innovation. Next Stage partners with nonprofit leaders to design strategies and processes that help navigate change to create real community impact. We believe in creative problem solving for maximum, system-wide impact and we’ll be there every step of the way.

Interested in how we can help? Reach out to us to learn more: 

Blog Post Written By: Janet Ervin