Cause Marketing and Social Media go Hand in Hand

Post by Frank Barry - 11.1.2009 - Follow me on Twitter

Have you started to think about using cause marketing at your nonprofit? Do you know how to create or implement a cause marketing strategy? Maybe you’re a seasoned cause marketing professional? I’m not sure why you’re here, but I know that that Joe Waters (@joewaters on Twitter) from Boston Medical Center (BMC) will bring something of value to the table for you. He’s the Director of Cause and Event marketing at Boston Medical and has been working with nonprofits for 17 years. He’s going to share some of his wisdom related to cause marketing and social media with us today!


Let’s hop right into the interview …


Cause Marketing in General


What is cause marketing?

I define cause marketing as a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit. The benefits for both entities are money, visibility and branding, although not necessarily in that order.

Cause marketing generally takes three forms:

  • Point-of-sale – Traditionally an “ask” at the register for customer support that goes to the charity
  • Percentage-of-sale – A portion of the sale from a product or service that goes to the charity
  • Licensing – A company pays the nonprofit a fee to use its logo or to have them endorse its product


Can you give us a quick example of cause marketing to help it stick?

A very well known cause marketing program right now is the partnership between Starbucks and Product RED. When you buy a coffee from Starbucks, 5 cents goes to RED to help fight AIDS in Africa. It’s a classic percentage-of-sale program.


Cause Marketing at BMC


How do you use cause marketing to make local impact?

For BMC, cause marketing is mainly point-of-sale, which involves retailers selling pinups at checkouts for a buck or more. What’s different about our cause marketing efforts is that we’ve integrated them with our events and with social media. The benefit is that we have a lot more to offer our corporate sponsors than just a simple pinup program!


Who are your corporate sponsors?

When we started our cause marketing program five years ago, we only had two existing partnerships in place. One with iParty, a 50-store party supply chain based mainly in New England. The other was with Ocean State Job Lots an 80-store discount retailer also in New England and New York. We started with these two partnerships and grew the program one partner at a time. Building off the successes of past partnerships to land new accounts was key. Last year, we worked with close to 50 corporate sponsors. The list includes Fuddruckers, Staples, Valvoline Instant Oil Change and National Amusements to name a few. Many are locally based here in New England because that’s our target market.


How successful has it been?

If you restrict our cause marketing to just the pinups/point-of-sale programs we do, we raise an additional half-million from it. This doesn’t include all the money we raise from events, which sometimes have a cause marketing component. All total, my five person team is active in over $3 million of fundraising for Boston Medical Center.


What type of impact has been made?

We knew going into it that cause marketing was not the best way to raise money. But we also knew that there were few better ways to build a nonprofit brand than cause marketing. It’s given us a tool to educate consumers about us and to tell our story. It’s also a great way to build corporate relationships. In the beginning these relationship are are very transactional, but over time they become very meaningful. So cause marketing represents an important “in”. I also think cause marketing is a toolbox necessity for nonprofits these days. Causes leave it out at their own peril. But those that wield it well are building better relationships.


Social Media and Cause Marketing


How is Boston Medical Center using social media as part of your overall cause marketing strategy?

Social media is a complement, an enhancer to our cause marketing strategy. It makes our cause marketing packages more compelling and unique because it’s what companies want to hear about today. They like the fact that we’re in to the next “new thing.” I also think that adding offline cause marketing strategies to online social media tactics strengthen both offerings, especially social media, which has a ways to go as a fundraising tool.


Why did you decide to start using social media? 

We started using social media because I was using it personally on as well as on Twitter and Facebook. I wanted to extend the benefits of these platforms to my workplace. I also wanted to maintain our tradition of firsts here in Boston. First at doing local cause marketing better than anyone else (Read: Halloween Town ‘09 by the Numbers). First at using social media for cause marketing better than any other nonprofit.


What challenges have you overcome in ‘selling’ social media to stakeholders?

They don’t use it! It’s funny, Frank, because guys like you and me are on this stuff all the time and we think everyone is using it. But they’re not! If they were it would be an easier sell. So the biggest thing I’ve been doing is getting people to try some of these tools so they can see for themselves what the hoopla is about. Two other things. First, I’m fortunate that I have a track record and good relationship with my boss and he trusts me. Second, a lot of these services are free and that’s huge! If social media was costing more than staff time I wouldn’t be on it as much, for sure.


What are your social media goals/objectives? How did you come up with them?

My goal is simple, Frank: tear down the walls of what I call “Fortress BMC”. I call it that because as a public hospital very few donors, or potential donors, see what’s going on inside because it’s a hospital for the poor and needy. In short, most of the people who give to us, or could give us, get there care at another Boston hospital. Social media is a way of letting people in to see what’s happening in New England’s busiest, biggest best emergency department, for instance. Or for them to learn more about the only prescriptive food pantry within a hospital in this country that fed 70,000 people last year. To knock down walls to open eyes to what’s going on at a hospital people know very little about but has a million people pass through its doors every year.


Where would you suggest nonprofits new to social media start?

Joe WatersThe most common thing I hear from nonprofits is “I don’t understand.” And they don’t understand social media because they don’t use it! They can read it about it all they all want, but the best way to learn to use Twitter and Facebook and Delicious and the rest are to try them. Among the different social media platforms I think Twitter is a great place to learn.

I’ve learned so much from people like you, @jeffhurt, @johnhaydon, @jeffwiedner, @therichbrooks, @michael_hoffman @askdebra, etc. These people have a lot to offer if you will only listen and learn and ask good questions


Big thanks to Joe for spending some time with us! Make sure to check out Joe’s blog on cause marketing at You can also listen to an interview on How non-profits can use cause marketing by John Haydon.


For a next read check out: Cause Marketing for Small Nonprofits: Jake’s Ride



What thoughts do you have on Cause Marketing and Social Media? Questions for Joe or any additional nuggets of wisdom you’d like to share with folks to build out the story?

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