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Should You Buy that Charity Affiliated Product?

Should You Buy that Charity Affiliated Product? Header Image

It isn't just pink ribbon packaging showing up on shelves during Breast Cancer Awareness Month anymore. Now the ribbons are apparent year-round. Moreover, it isn't just pink! There are seemingly endless opportunities to purchase products and services that claim to benefit charity.

Why are so many companies jumping on this bandwagon? Because, as a tool for motivating purchases and improving the public's perception of a brand, it works. Here are some findings from a 2013 Cone Study on cause-related marketing:

  • 89% of consumers would be likely to switch brands (if quality and price held constant) for one that's affiliated with a charity, compared with 80% in 2010 and 66% in 1993.
  • 54% of consumers bought a product with a social and/or environmental benefit, compared with 41% in 2010 and 20% in 1993.

So, how do you evaluate which cause-related marketing efforts are worth purchasing? Start by asking these questions:

  • Is the relationship between the for-profit and charity authentic?  
    Are there any perceived or real conflicts between the charity’s mission and the company’s values and products/services? Is there a strategic partnership between the firm and the charity or did the company just color wash its product in pink (or another charitable cause color scheme) as an advertising endeavor without any thoughtful consideration of the charity/cause involved?
  • Is the packaging clear / transparent?
    In examining the product’s packaging, avoid vague packaging and make sure you can easily discern:
    • Charity: What is the specific charity involved in the partnership?
    • Value: How much of your purchase benefits the charity? Is there a minimum or a cap on the firm’s contribution?
    • Timing: When does the offer end?
  • Is this product/service something you really need?
    Is the product/service something you would buy even without the charitable affiliation?
  • How does the product/service stack up to competitors' offerings?
     Is the quality and pricing of the product as good as or better than other similar products?
  • Is the charity affiliated with the product high-performing and one that matches your philanthropic goals?
    Make sure you know about the charity on the receiving end of your purchase by checking the charity’s:
    • Programs & Services:  Confirm, don't just assume, that the charity offers the programs and services that you want to support. For example, just because a charity has the term Breast Cancer in its name, doesn't mean it is focused on finding a cure. It might be focused on research, advocacy, awareness or funding patient services. So, if you want to fund a cure, you'll need to look for charities that are mostly focused on that effort and then see which for-profit affiliations that charity has established. 
    • Financial Health: Is it financially efficient and sustainable?
    • Accountability & Transparency: Does it have a strong Board of Directors providing proper oversight? Does disclose its financial documents on its website? Does it have the proper policies and procedures in place to prevent unethical behavior?
    • Results Reporting: Does the charity provide any evidence of its results in meeting its mission by reporting on its website?

You can find information on all of these items on the Charity Navigator web site. You can also look at the charity’s web site or call them directly for further details.

Whether you buy the product or not, remember that this type of philanthropy should be seen as a bonus and never a substitute for making a contribution directly to a well-vetted charity. Unfortunately for the charities involved, this is a message that most customers have yet to take to heart since Cone's research indicates that only 36% of those exposed to a cause-related product were more likely to donate money directly to the charity (again, this figure was higher for Millennials at 45%,).

If you'd like to learn more about cause-related marketing then we suggest the following additional reading:

  • An Overview of the pros and cons of cause-related marketing.
  • A Roundtable Conversation with executives from several well-known breast cancer charities where they discuss how they decide which products/firms are a good fit for their charity and what they say is the biggest misconception donors/customers have about cause-related marketing.

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