One of the more longstanding mantras of PR is to “do well by doing good.” This often means factoring a social benefit into the work we do for businesses, industry organizations and others.
Cause marketing is a whole area of communications centered on building a marketing campaign around a worthy cause. The hope is that the marketing campaign is built on a sincere interest in the cause, that its efforts to raise awareness and donations might in fact help achieve some progress for the cause, and the ratio between the inherent self-serving nature of a marketing campaign doesn’t tilt too far away from actually providing support to the cause.
A good example of a cause marketing campaign is when a soda company creates a new pink can to raise awareness of breast cancer and promises to donate a portion of sales to certain reputable breast cancer charities.
A bad example would be if the same company created the pink can and did nothing else, assuming that simply by featuring the color pink on the can it is raising awareness of breast cancer and that is enough. While it may help raise awareness, a situation like that does more to sell soda than anything else, since consumers tend to be conditioned nowadays to presume pink packaging is tied to financial support of certain breast cancer charities.
Unfortunately, many good causes are exploited for financial gain, and the losers are those who spend or donate their own money thinking it will go to the cause at hand. The other ones affected are those who could easily be exploited to raise donations or sell product – in the example above that would be breast cancer survivors.
Just recently, the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting published a study that covered a comprehensive review of 6,000 charities and identified some of best and worst of the bunch.
More to the point, the criteria for what the study presumed is a well-run charity is one that maintains its own staff to raise funds, and most importantly, contributes the vast majority of those funds to activities and programs that provide a direct benefit to those who need the help.
Poorly run charities are those who tend to spend more of their budgets on outside consultants to raise funds, and who in turn gobble up the majority of the funds they raise, thereby depriving some of those who otherwise would and should benefit from the donations.
Based on a quick review of the charities who received poor ratings, it seems that the most often exploited causes and constituencies are: emergency responders; children’s charities; cancer; and military veterans.
The Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting ranked the following as the ten worst charities based on cash paid to solicitors and the percentage spent on direct cash aid to benefit recipients:
1. Kids Wish Network
2. Cancer Fund of America
3. Children’s Wish Foundation International
4. American Breast Cancer Foundation
5. Firefighters Charitable Foundation
6. Breast Cancer Relief Foundation
7. International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO
8. National Veterans Service Fund
9. American Association of State Troopers
10. Children’s Cancer Fund of America
Here is a link to the full report: America’s Worst Charities