In this episode, Stacy sits down with cause marketing philanthropist, Kristi Porter. The two discuss the best ways to use cause marketing and social issues to amplify a brand’s messaging and engagement to consumers. Don’t forget to listen to Signify’s podcast!
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- Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I’m Stacy Jones, the founder of influencer marketing and branded content agency, Hollywood Branded. This podcast provides brand marketers with a learning platform for topics first to share their insights and knowledge on topics, which make a direct impact on your business today.
Intro voice: 00:31
- Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Here’s your host, Stacy Jones.
- I’m so happy to be here with you all today. I wanna give a very warm welcome to Kristi Porter, who’s joining us to discuss her extensive experience working in cause marketing. Kristi is the chief do gooder of the agency, Signify, and believes in using her skills, talents, and influence to do good wherever she can. As a self-described #WordNerd, she is often assisting non-profits and for-profits with a social mission in their marketing and communication efforts primarily through copywriting and marketing strategy consulting.
- Kristi also teaches solopreneurs and small businesses on how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies, so they can actively participate in the issues they care about. She believes that cause-focused organizations are the future of business and when they succeed, we all win. Today, we’re gonna talk about how to use cause marketing and social issues to amplify a brand’s messaging and engagement to consumers.
- We’ll learn what has worked from Kristi’s experience, what maybe could be avoided if you’re doing this yourself and not working with an agency to represent your brand and where other brands are missing the mark. Kristi, welcome.
- Yeah, I literally just taped a sign to my door for the same reason, because last time I think I did one of these, it literally was like a minute before the Amazon showed up, so yeah, it happens.
- Did you just call it “The Amazon”?
- No, I don’t think so. I may have. It may be another plug we have to get rid of.
- No, it’s actually really cute. I think everybody calls Google now, “The Google” too, or a lot of people do, so I’m like the Amazon.
- I know, it’s a noun, it’s a verb. It’s a whole thing.
- Uh-huh. It is. It’s a whole entity.
- Okay, so here we go and if I flub this, I did record this earlier, but I can redo it again and I’m not gonna make you painfully listen to me go over it …
- because that’s just dreadful. Okay. I’m so happy to be here with you all today. I wanna give a very warm welcome to Kristi Porter who’s joining us to discuss her extensive experience working in cause marketing. Kristi Porter is the founder and chief do gooder of agency, Signify, and believes in using her skills, talent, and influence to do good wherever she can. As a self-described #WordNerd, she’s often assisting non-profits and for-profits with a social mission in their marketing and communication efforts.
- Primarily through copywriting and marketing strategy consulting. Kristi also teaches solopreneurs and small businesses on how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies, so they can actively participate in the issues they care about. She believes that cause-focused organizations are the future of business and when they succeed, we all win. Today, we’re gonna talk about how to use cause marketing and social issues to amplify a brand’s messaging and engagement to consumers.
- We’ll learn what’s worked from Kristi’s experience, what maybe could be avoided if you’re doing this yourself and where other brands are missing the mark. Kristi, welcome.
- Thank you so much for having me, Stacy. I’m thrilled to be here, I appreciate it.
- Well, I am so delighted to have you. I mentioned this earlier, I think cause marketing is one of the futures of all marketing and that brands listening today need to really listen and pay attention to what you have and your words of wisdom, because the future generations, this is it. This is how to get their attention.
To start off, can you give us a little bit of background of what got you on this pathway to where you are today and what you’re doing now.
- Yeah, I have always been a writer. Since I was a little kid, it just always came naturally to me and I enjoyed it, so business communications was sort of a natural foray when it came to my degree and all the careers that I’ve had over the years and so, I live in Atlanta now and when I first moved here, I worked in a high-end restaurant and then, because I had that business communications background, I actually started working for the PR firm that represented the restaurant.
- So, I worked for a number of years in the hospitality PR agency here and got to work with a lot of up and comers just as chefs were becoming rock stars, so it was kinda fun to see that trend turn. And then, I went out on my own for a couple years and was freelance writing and then transitioned into an environmental non-profit and was the director of communications there. And then, I went on to be the event marketing director at another non-profit and that whole time, I had been volunteering at different places and it’s always been important to me to make an impact no matter where I was.
- Even while working at a non-profit, which sounds easy enough, right? But we all have personal causes that we care about and issues that are more important to us, so was doing these things on the side and then in 2006, I discovered the Social Justice Movement through the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery and just really wanted to dig in there and lend my expertise and background to become part of that movement.
- So, I did that on the side and then, whenever I was looking to leave my last job as an event marketing director, I was thinking about the people and the conversations that I had had over the years and was happy to dish out free advice to non-profits and social enterprises and foundations and these other little bitty businesses that didn’t have somebody like me on staff and thought, “Hey, I think there’s something here.”
- And so, I went back to all those people and said, “I think I wanna go start my own thing. If I did, and I’ve been helping you guys along the way, would you actually be able to pay for project work if I went and did this?” And they all said yes, and so it was the greatest thing in the world to start my business working with my friends. They were very grace filled and it was fun to be able to help them and see really these people that I already cared so deeply about just do an even better job at what they were already great at.
- That’s really awesome and it’s nice having that safety net where they said, “Yes, we love you so much. We will actually pay you money. Go start your own career for us.”
- Right. They didn’t have to, but they trusted me, yeah.
- That’s nice. That’s really great. So, we hear so much about cause marketing now and it’s definitely … if it wasn’t last year’s buzzword, it’s this year’s buzzword and it’s probably gonna be the next like four or five years’ buzzword.
- So, can you explain why so many brands are gravitating towards it and why they really if they’re not, should be?
- Sure, yeah. I think it’s both an issue of supply and demand. [inaudible 00:06:37] … Communications does an amazing study every year and the one they did last year said that 88 percent of people would buy products and services from companies that had some sort of social impact element, 88 percent. Who wouldn’t wanna look at a statistic like that and pay attention?
- So, I think there’s that demand and there’s also so many people who already cared in some capacity and have understood that they could give back through their business as well, that it didn’t have to be two separate worlds. So, it’s both something, especially Millennials and Gen Z care deeply about. I am on the cusp of that, just slightly over as an Xer and always wanted to have that social impact as well, so it just makes so much sense. We spend so much of our lives working, so why not do something with a greater purpose there and if you are a company, you certainly wanna enjoy your work.
- And you wanna give a great culture for your employees to be a part of and we also know people wanna be in jobs that … they’ll even take pay cuts to work in organizations that have some sort of social impact component, so I think it was just this culmination of factors and people are no longer just satisfied with having a job. They wanna have a job that makes an impact and from the other side of that, we realize that as customers, our greatest power is our spending power and we do that on a daily basis.
- If I can present you with two pairs of shoes and they look kinda similar, they’re priced kinda similar, but one has a social-impact element, it’s a super easy sell to go, “Yeah, I want those other shoes. I wanna do good at the same time and have a new pair of shoes,” so I think from just so many perspectives, it makes a lot of sense and we’re now just starting to see a huge trend that’s just catching everywhere.
- Right and you’re touching on Toms, obviously with the shoes.
- I do have a pair.
- And Blake Mycoskie, who started that company, actually he came in and we worked together for a little bit when he was trying to understand and learn about product placement right after coming off of Amazing Race and he actually had that insight and realization of what an influencer actually was before we truly even had influencer marketing.
- I’m talking right now going back, it’s over 15 years. It’s 15, 16, 17 years, a long time ago. And that’s right after he founded the company and that was in the early days for a brand to consider cause marketing.
- For sure. I heard him speak in 2007 for the first time, yeah.
- Right. And it’s changed a lot.
- A lot.
- A lot since then and a lot of companies have tried to duplicate what Toms has done and they’ve had their ups and they’ve had their downs and successes. But where do you think brands have succeeded the most in creating these cause marketing efforts? Is it the buy a pair of shoes and donate or is it a Nike who is, “Hey, we’re going to completely embrace the whole NFL controversy right now and include Kapernick back into our campaign”?
- What do you think the options are that are out there?
- The easiest and most complex answer is it depends on your audience. It depends on who you’re trying to attract. Each of those examples you gave, Nike and Toms, two very different models doing two very different things, but they know their audience and they appeal to those and they dig into that. I think where people often get it wrong is either not saying anything, they’re doing great work, but so afraid to talk about it that they’re coming off salesy and sleazy that they don’t say anything.
- And so, we don’t know where … they might have more fans if they actually started talking about it. And then the other side of the coin is it just comes across as I’m doing this for show. I’m doing this to get sales, so maybe that’s not their heart behind it, hopefully not. But that’s how it comes across to other people, so there’s certainly a delicate balance to it, but the way to do it right is to try to get other people to talk about it even if it’s your internal employees and not your CEO.
- And then, also just listening to the needs and wants of your audience and seeing what they’re invested in literally and figuratively and where they wanna see you play more in that space, because we do care about the issues that our companies care about as well.
- We can see, like I said, human trafficking and modern slavery is a big issue for me, so if I see a company naturally leaning in that space or even if it’s in the bio of one of the executives, then I have a natural affinity for that company already before I ever make any sort of purchase, because they’re talking about things that I care about too.
- So, is it dangerous for a brand, though, to go in and say, “Okay, this is my niche. This is the single cause that I’m supporting,” and listening to someone like you who’s like, “Oh, well I’m attracted to that.” Well, what about the 10 other people who are out there who are attracted to totally different topics that are of concern to them. Should the brand go out and do multiple partnerships with cause marketing to be able to canvas and cover a broader landscape or is just going one and done and embracing and running throughout, full out with that a better plan?
- Yeah. I think it needs to make sense. So, from the standpoint of if you’re a publisher, then literacy should be something that makes sense for your audience and makes sense for you to be involved in. That may not end up being your particular issue, but it might be. And so, one way is to make it make sense, so it looks more natural leaning for you.
- The other thing is I think a lot of us, whether someone picks our specific issue or not, I think we just wanna know that they care, that there are actually people behind the brand doing things to drive their mission forward just like they are at non-profits and other cause-focused organizations that they care about something. And I think that will also make a difference. Just showing that they have a heart and are not just in it for a sale, I think makes a difference whether they pick my particular issue or not.
- I care usually more about social justice issues, however, I’ll buy things for breast cancer research, because I’m excited to see them getting involved and having a cause that they do support over something comparable that may not have that focus.
- And then, does a brand need to actually pay money toward an initiative ana a cause or having them actually support it, share the word and help broaden the overall awareness issue, is that enough?
- I definitely think so. I think especially because I work with a lot of small businesses ans solopreneurs especially, so they wanna be able to … what often gets in their way is they don’t talk about it, because either they don’t know what to do or they have this limiting belief that what I have isn’t enough. And so, it’s I don’t have a day a week to volunteer. I don’t have $5,000 or $50,000 or whatever enough is to you, whatever success looks like to you.
- So, you just get stuck and don’t do anything. I think whether you’re a very large brand or you’re somebody just plugging away doing your own thing, that you think creatively with your time and resources and influence, because sometimes the best thing that I have to give may be simply an introduction to somebody who has more resources than I do. And so, that costs me nothing on paper, but is invaluable to all parties and I’ve been able to make a difference in something that I care about.
- So, sometimes it’s as simple as if you have a co-working space or an office or a conference room, that’s valuable real estate to somebody, so non-profits are also looking for other places to hold events, hold board meetings. It may just be a use of your space. Thinking creatively with what you have to offer, there’s always somebody else that can use it.
- That’s a really good point. I wouldn’t even think about, “Oh, our agency has a conference room. Someone can come in and use that for a meeting I might need to have,” or anything along those lines.
- So, that’s great.
- You have a lot of resources and influence when it comes down to it, so it’s just figuring out another outlet to be able to use those and thinking outside whatever you think it is you don’t have enough of, especially I love seeing small businesses partner with small non-profits as well, because it’s a great way for both of them to see a bigger impact.
- Because as much as I love huge, global brands and we can rattle off a bunch off the top of our head, sending my $100, $1,000 whatever donation, I may not be able to see much of an impact for that. But if I take that down the street and actually meet the people involved on the ground in my local community doing that same thing, that makes a huge difference for them and now I know their name and I can keep in touch with them and I can see what they might have down the line that I might have available that would be something very easy for me to donate or introduce or somehow get involved on a deeper level.
- Yeah, I’ve talked with several non-profits about different things across influencers and product placement for them and just in general what their marketing outreach is and one of the commonalities that I hear is that when they’re going for sponsorship dollars, when I say, “Oh, well have you approached these national brands?” And these can be some pretty hefty, large charities that are bringing in 10’s of millions of dollars to support a cause, they say, “No, the larger brands aren’t interested in working with us, because we’re not the No. 1 in our space.”
- And so, I think what you just said, it doesn’t even have to be the small, little brands, the No. 2, the No. 3, the No. 5 in that category, they get overlooked a lot, because everyone’s like, “Oh, we should go to No. 1, because they’re the biggest and the best,” and it’s not necessarily giving the best to what you could actually be doing.
- Right. I also like to use the analogy of the junior high dance, because I feel like the non-profits are on one side of the room and the regular companies are on the other side of the room and they’re kind of afraid to talk to each other, because they’re not sure what the other one’s gonna say. And so, there’s very few people, I feel like there’s so much potential and so much opportunity and in fact, the smallest piece of the giving pie comes from companies versus individuals where they give the most on an individual level, the least on a corporate level even though there’s probably a lot more resources behind it.
But nobody’s coming in the middle to actually have the conversation, so they’re both kinda afraid to approach each other and wonder what the other has to say, but unless they get brave and have that conversation, nothing may come about, but there’s so much good people can be doing that they’re just not even thinking about and I’d love to see more people bring those conversations to the table to see what the results might look like.
- Right and I think on the corporate side, a lot of times, you’re like, “Oh, they’re just asking us for money,” and what you said a moment ago is “Well, maybe they’re just asking for help with brand awareness, so that they can be perceived as even bigger and more of something that other people would want to give money to,” because the big brand almost acts like an influencer or a celebrity for that non-profit, because it sheds so much sunlight on it and lets them shine a little bit brighter.
- Right, and if you wanna have a philanthropy or giving strategy, then that could be just volunteering. It’s for the sake of doing it, you just wanna be somebody creating a social impact. If you have an official cause marketing campaign, so there’s something you’re doing together to get out there and let people know about, then both sides need to be bringing something to the table as far as media attention, awareness.
- The non-profit should be promoting the company and vice versa, so there should also be some tangible metrics if you’re actually putting together a cause marketing campaign versus we just wanna be more philanthropic or we wanna organize quarterly volunteer days for our employees or organize some sort of employee giving program or donate our graphic designer one day a month or whatever that looks like.
- So, there’s also coming with an understanding of what your goals are, what you wanna get out of this. Is it simply to give or do you also wanna give in order to get? And if you wanna give in order to get, you may need to do that, I’m not saying that’s gross or bad or anything, but then you need to have a firm understanding about what each side is going to do in that case.
- Right and that would be in a scenario like Toms where you’re giving in order to make sales happen.
- Yeah, for sure or even like we talked about before. Breast cancer awareness, so there’s a lot of co-branded products at that point. Breast cancer awareness is saying, “Here, go buy these products, because you can get them with our seal on it and the companies are saying hey, we’re supporting breast cancer awareness,” so it’s a very double-sided relationship.
- It’s very licensed specifically and dollars are there, royalties are there and there’s a lot higher stakes for everyone involved, because there’s money on the table.
- For sure, yep.
- So, if a brand wants to get started and you’ve named so many different things. You could loan a graphic artist for the day, you could do employees donating their time during office hours. You can do a licensing deal. Where should a brand start? What is the very first step that they need to do in order to say as a company, “This is our plan. This is the direction we’re going to go”?
- Yeah. First outline the goals. Why are you doing this and what do you want out of it? So, again, does it go back to you need participation on their part? Should you look at a co-branded product or something like that for example? With publicity on both sides or is it just we wanna show our employees that we care, we wanna show our customers that we care.
- We’re gonna start donating our time or volunteer in-kind services, resources and influence, so knowing what you wanna get out of it is the first step and then, the second step, I don’t know about you. I’m just one of those people that keeps a lot of thoughts in my head, so another tangible step to do that is simply writing what all you have to give, because I think it’s easy to think about all the things we can’t give or we don’t have enough of, but actually just cataloging all those things and categories, physical resources, in-kind resources, time, money, who do you know?
- Can you introduce somebody? All of those things and just seeing them in black and white in front of you and see what makes the most sense, because I think if you also and this is something new to you, then start small. Look at the causes you care about, look at what you have to give and look at great intersections of those and start with one project at one time and outline very clearly always, I am a communications person, so be clear and open in your communication.
- Is this a one-time project? Is this something you wanna build on ongoing, is this something you wanna try a trial run at? Then think through and talk to the non-profit about all of those things so that both sides can have a clear expectation when it comes to the deal and seeing how can both benefit? Because obviously, afterwards hopefully you do a short-term project and then you come back and say, “How can we do that better? What needs to be done differently? Was this just not a good fit?” Because that’s okay too.
- And I think maybe some of the reasons we continue to sit at different sides of the room is because somebody got burned somewhere along the way or somebody has a horror story, but there are so many options out there and so many amazing people doing amazing things that don’t give up if something goes bad. We’ve all had bad job experiences, but it didn’t stop us from getting a job later on. And so, yeah, just consider it for what it is. The only time wasted, I think, is the time you didn’t learn anything.
- So, go back reevaluate and see if something can be done better the next time around, but make sure you get back up on that horse.
- What are some of the biggest mistakes companies can make when entering the idea they’re going to start doing a partnership with a non-profit?
- I do think a big mistake is just not talking about it. I think some people are really scared or don’t know how to talk about it. They’re afraid of how it might come across to people, so they don’t say anything. I also think if you’re at a large company just dictating something to the rest of the company might not be the best idea. Go ahead and take a poll, take a survey, have conversations about what your employees are interested in and what they can get engaged in, because especially if you’re going to do something outside of strict donations, you wanna actually have their time and expertise involved.
- They need to be bought in from the ground level, so figure out what’s important to them and see how you can work around that and so getting that buy in from the inside of the company is crucial, because also like we said, talking about it can sometimes be tricky. If you’ve got somebody on an employee level to talk about it on your blog, on your social media, whatecer real estate you have to offer, then it can be much more valuable sometimes than a CEO, because it sounds dictated, it sounds from the top up.
- But sometimes, we just wanna know what the guy in the mail room thinks, so I think having that buy in is another great way to start, especially if you don’t know where to begin and then, you can also of course talk to your customers through the same means and figure out what’s important to them, because I think again, it should make some logical sense to them about why you’re getting involved. Because once it’s a natural outlet for them, then they’ll be more able to get on board with it as well and they may even help you spread the word, which would of course, be ideal.
- Of course, yeah. And then, so the company says, “Okay, we want to do this. We’ve narrowed down our niche of who we wanna go after as far as a partner in a non-profit,” what do they do then?
- Set a meeting and I would have a couple conversations before anything happened, because I think we’re all people at the end of the day, so even if you … I have as I’m sure you have gotten to look behind the curtains of some of our favorite companies and thought, “Hm, I’m glad I don’t work there,” and so, I think just committing to something is not a good idea.
- First, just have a couple conversations. See if both parties gel, see if both of you can agree on the same things. I also talk to non-profits who get a little sketchy, because they got burned by some company who came in and said, “Here’s what you need. Let me tell you what you need and we’re gonna come and do that for you,” and then they were kind of dictated things and they have such limited resources that they said yes or they wanted to build the relationship or something else, so they went ahead, accepted whatever it is and then either couldn’t do anything with it, it didn’t make sense, it didn’t work out.
- And so, that’s another way things can go badly. Having a few of those conversations up front and just say, “Let’s start a dialogue and see where we meet in the middle and see if this makes sense,” because I’ve also had some great conversations with people where it may just not work. They may not need the kind of help that you have to offer or maybe you actually know somebody who’s a better fit for them and you can make an introduction, but it is building a relationship after all. It’s a two-way street.
- And so, getting that on the table and seeing how things really look from a black and white standpoint across the table from somebody and seeing what you can build together is going to be far more beneficial in the long run for both of you.
- And is it fair for the corporate partner to ask for things from the non-profit? Whether that’s content from events or to participate in press releases or things that unfortunately, non-profits are trying to do all these different right things. They’re not necessarily trying to develop a lot of returns for the corporation and that’s gonna take someone’s time to do. What should be the realistic expectations of a corporate partner when they’re going in and looking at a non-profit? How much can you really ask for?
- Again, it depends on the relationship and it depends on your goals. And it depends if this is an actual cause marketing relationship or if you’re just trying to be more charitable in your community or state or wherever you’re located. Have that conversation. Sometimes, they will be overjoyed. You wanna interview their founder and put them on your blog, then they will probably be very open to that, because PR is not something that non-profits normally seek out.
- So, I think those kinds of low-hanging fruits are awesome. Put some options on the table. Again, start small and see what they’re open to, because you can probably build from there. If it’s gonna be options that generate a lot of time out of them and create extra burden on them, then it needs to be something officially written down as a cause marketing partnership. Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s what you’re going to do.
- And get all of that out and on the table and both sides staring at this, it doesn’t have to be an official contract, but just so it’s clear for both parties and so that they understand there is … they do have more skin in the game, because there are expectations for them. And I think that’s okay, but some non-profits will be receptive to that and some won’t and that just depends on a case-by-case basis.
- Again, it goes back to the best thing for both parties is just to build that relationship and start from there to see what both are open to, because if you do need the PR, if it’s part a reputation management from your end of the deal or if it’s something you really wanna start being known for cause marketing, then find somebody who’s willing to do those pieces. Maybe they already have a track record of doing that or maybe it’s something that they’re looking to get into as well.
- Some just won’t and that’s okay too. That’s why it’s important for it to be a good fit and neither party dictating to the other one.
- Are there ever traditionally hard costs that are involved by the corporate partner to the non-profit, besides time of employees potentially or something along those lines or … is it that usually a corporate partner would say, “We’re going to give you $100,000 or $10,000 and that’s it and we just wanna leverage the fact that we give you some money,” and then there’s always the level of, “Okay, we’ve created a licensed product line. Obviously, then there’s a flow of money.”
Is there really that expectation? Is there a lot of dollars being given by corporations for more of these larger “I’m a corporate partnership” or is it more of a flow of in-kind and energy and support? What have you seen?
- It is really all across the board? I think as far as official cause marketing, yeah, there are a lot more costs involved, because you are going to have actual advertising behind that, public relations campaigns. There will be a lot more of those fixed costs out there that could potentially escalate depending, again, going back to the goals. If you are just desiring to be more charitable, then maybe not.
- It could be your cost is your time or it could be we’re donating $100,000, let’s talk about the best use to make … the best use of that money and that’s kind of it. That’s our charitable giving for the year, so we need to figure out the best plan for that money, because that’s sort of where the well runs dry. So, I think it’s up to you to set those costs as a company and I think that so many people would be willing to work with you in that to make it a win for both of you, which is exciting to see.
- And so, hard costs, they can be there certainly. They don’t have to be, though. That’s why I really love talking to people about and getting creative about their resources and influence to see there’s so much you have to give and when I’m able to give my influence or in-kind services as much as donations, sometimes those are more valuable internally to your employees or to your executives, because you’re actually seeing a greater benefit and you get to see the results of that rather than just funding a new program.
- Which is great and no non-profit is gonna turn you down on that. But there are so many experiential elements that you can get on the internal level of that and just being able to see your hard dollras at work as well as your in-kind and being able to be up close and personal, not just handing over a big check, but being face to face with the people making a difference or even the people who are benefiting from those resources and products on the other end of that as well, the people they benefit.
- So, those are all really powerful moments and powerful conversations that can happen and will do more to transform you and inspire you to go back and give more the next year and that’s almost unquantifiable.
And are there any other case studies that you could share or brands you think are really doing this right in this space?
- There are a lot of people doing great things. In fact, I even recently took a … I don’t remember the score, but it was a survey on Survey Monkey and then when I got to the end, this page popped up and said, “Do you wanna donate a dollar to … ?” It was like an animal rescue fund or something and I was like, “Oh, what a creative use of their space,” because so many people use Survey Monkey.
- So, you’re popping right up there. I thought that was another great way to creatively use their existing resources without having to send an email blast or just post on Facebook or do Facebook ads about, “Hey, we’re supporting this animal shelter,” that it was just popping up all over the place, so I really loved that. I actually just got an email shortly before we started talking from Chipotle and they are partnering … if you are a part of a library, you can sign up and when kids go in and read books, then you actually get a bookmark for a free burrito, so education is one of those that not to me the most natural fit for Chipotle, whatever they’ve decided is important for them, which is really cool.
- So, I thought it was just a great giveaway to their product, get more fans and be able to participate in a cause that they care about, so obviously that’s costing them money. That’s costing them a lot of burritos, but they’re able to think about different ways to get people involved and on such a broad scale, because I immediately forwarded it to my best friend who works in a library. So, it just gets us giving on all sorts of levels and wanting to share about those people who are making a difference in such unique and clever ways, so I will be visiting Chipotle soon for that reason probably.
- There you go. So and I don’t know how much you can go into this, but are there tax benefits for corporations to align themselves with non-profits or is it really kind of just a pass through wash of it? Let’s say you’re giving services, you’re not really able to line item that and say this is the hard cost and then you get credit from the IRS at the end of the year, but are there other ways that it can actually benefit a company financially to do partnerships with non-profits besides making money from a licensed line?
- Yeah. There definitely are tax benefits. That is certainly not my area of expertise. As you read in my bio, I am a word nerd, not a numbers girl at all, but I’ve donated services to event galas for example, silent auction items and I’ve gotten an in-kind donation for that as far as being able to turn that with my taxes.
- So, I think there’s definitely those benefits, there’s definitely tax benefits, but a lot of people will be happy to give you in-kind receipts as well. I had a friend that she worked for a planner, a day planner company and they had a new shipment coming in and the old one was, of course, being outdated halfway through the year, so they said, “We have all these planners. What do we do?” And so, we were able to donate those to the people I work for who work with women coming out of prostitution and trafficking and said, “Can you use these? Would these be fun? They’re beautiful, they have great messages and the girls could use them for their appointments and things like that.”
- And they had never done anything like that before, so they said, “We’ll give it a try,” and they ended up loving it. And so, the planning company got an in-kind tax receipt just for something like that, so products or services, then a lot of people will be very happy to provide you with tax documentation outside of just cash donations, yes.
- Okay. And so, basically whenever you are doing a partnership or you’re donating product, you should be asking for a 501-3C receipt of some sort, so that you actually have that documentation?
- For sure, yep. Absolutely. And nobody’s gonna be offended, I don’t think.
- Perfect. And then, what about cause marketing is going to change in the future? How do you think it’s going to evolve?
- I think we’ll only see it grow. As I mentioned, I was in the PR/Hospitality industry right as chefs became rock stars. I was at an environmental non-profit right as we saw the Green Movement taking off. I started being around social enterprises in 2012, which for those who aren’t familiar with that, it’s sort of a non-profit, for-profit hybrid. It can be a non-profit or a for-profit, but it’s really an intersection of cause and commerce.
- So, Toms is a great example. They are a for-profit company having a social impact, so they would be considered a social enterprise. So, I’ve been around those since 2012 and we’ve only seen those continue to boom and I think we will just only see those skyrocket. In fact, I think that will become the more dominant business model. Right now, it’s something I have to explain to a lot of people, which is totally fine. But I think in a few years, everybody will know what that term is, because they’ll be all around us.
- The ear buds I’m on right now, Listen, they also have a one-for-one model and they recently partnered with Delta and so Delta is actually using these ear buds in their planes and things as well, so I think we’ll just start to see this everywhere we look and it will become the commonplace for business instead of, “Oh, how interesting. That’s new and different. I think it will just be everywhere we look, which is so exciting and I’m so thrilled to be a part of it, because both as a company owner and a consumer, I think it’s just an exciting time.
- And really I’m thrilled that more people are demanding this and that businesses are responding.
- Do you think companies need to be very concerned about choosing the wrong partners?
- Yes. I think we’ve all been burned on both sides and that’s one reason it would stop people from moving forward. If you’re a traditional company and you had a bad experience, then it may make you a little more shy to do that again. The same thing with the non-profit side, so it always goes back to date your potential partner.
- You wanna build those relationships on the front end, because job interviews for example, we go in and put our best foot forward on both sides of that equation and same thing with a partnership as far as a company and a non-profit. But then, the more you evolve that relationship over time, the cracks begin to show, so and so didn’t hold up their end of the deal. This didn’t work out, it was a total flop. Those things are bound to happen.
- So, I think you do have to be really particular about who you choose both from a relationship standpoint as far as does it make sense to your customers or can you show them how it makes sense or why it’s important to you? Because if it’s completely out of left field, then they may not respond at all, and so that does you no good either.
- So, there’s a lot of different aspects to look at. It’s not a simple, overnight process, but I do think you start small and that gives you something to build on, because you may finish one project and think, “This is not … glad we did it, but this is not the right partner for us for a lot of reasons,” and the non-profit may think the same about you and that’s okay. There are definitely bad outcomes that could happen, but it’s important to keep getting out there and keep trying, because like I said, I don’t think this is a trend we’re gonna see go away any time soon.
- Figuring out how to carve out your slice in it and I think generosity’s contagious. Whether you’re a company or an individual, so I think once you get a taste of a really good partnership, then you’re gonna wanna know how you can keep replicating that model.
- Right. And even as you mentioned before, it goes well beyond your consumer base. It’s about your employees and you can actually have better employee retention potentially if you’re partnered with and having your employees feel like they’re not just clocking in, clocking out, but they’re actually contributing to a good cause.
- Yeah, yeah. The statistics are insane. Like 75 percent of people are unhappy with their jobs or something like that, but on the other side of the coin, I and many people I know and the research shows that we’ll stick around, we’ll take less money or we’ll stick around with a company that has a greater purpose, and so people want to be able to give back.
- And if they can do that during those 40 hours a week, then that’s even better, especially depending on how much you require outside of that time or if you have a family, then you may not have a lot of time on the weekends or on the evenings to go and do a volunteer project or something else, so I think it’s just a complete bonus and creates a better employee culture whenever you can have that internal structure that allows people to give back in some capacity.
- I’ve talked to several companies lately that have, I forget exactly what they called them, basically internal committees. So, they helped I think the people on the committees rotated in and out year after year, but they helped dictate what volunteer activities the company would be participating in, what charities they would be giving to, so it really created a lot of internal buy in and I don’t have the data to show it, but I would very well imagine that people were really excited to be on that committee and looking for ways to get on there in the future or to be rotated back into it, because those are just fun things outside of sitting in front of … a lot of us sit in front of our computer.
- Moving data, writing, whatever it is you tend to do on a computer, I think those are just fun little bonuses that create all these other little break room experiences that people are excited to go be a part of and say, “Hey, you know what, I went and did this with my company. It was so fun and I can’t wait to do it again. It was just a boost for everybody involved.”
- Yeah, that’s really great. One of the trends I’ve seen in a few agencies in different areas has been to actually create a program where non-profits can submit themselves and apply for the partnership with the agency. Then, the agency will choose one for the year to help work with. Do you think that’s a good practice, a bad practice? And could companies do this as well where they almost put an RFP out and they say, “We’re looking for these 10 things and we’re taking applicants and we wanna know who wants to work with us and we will then explore working with you”?
- Yeah, I think systemetizing it, especially if you are a company that constantly gets bombarded for charitable donations or requests or if you just have a limited amount of time, you wanna do something, but you also may not have an internal committee, you may not have a lot of time to go out and see who’s actually doing things in your community or you’re just looking to get started in obviously a safer way, then I think that’s a great method to incorporate.
- Because I have talked to companies that are just like, “We get requests all the time, multiple times a week,” and so it’s also hard to be on that side and say no. That’s not a great feeling either, so it’s also if you’re a company that’s approached a lot, then that’s a great way to say we’ve reached our quota or we’ve picked somebody and it kinda gives you an easier answer rather than just simply saying, “No, check back in with us,” especially depending on people’s budget years. Some people renew in January, some people renew in various parts of the month.
- So, sometimes when I’ve helped people with event sponsorships, we literally will just walk in the door and they’re like, “Oh, we’re at the end of our fiscal year actually and so, we’ve had all the requests we can handle at this point. Check back in with us at this time.” Okay, makes perfect sense. Happy to do that. So yeah, I would say those are definitely two situations that it might be a good idea if you get bombarded with requests or if you simply do not have the time to go out and figure out who needs help, who can you help?
- A lot of these deeper questions we’re asking you to ask, so I realize those take a lot of time and effort, so if that’s something that’s limiting for you right now, but you still wanna do something, then I think that’s a great way to systemitize it for both efforts.
- And are there listings or easy access points to find non-profits besides just sitting here going, “Okay, I’d like to … [inaudible 00:44:29] … and I’d like to save dogs. I’d like to build homes for families. I’d like to prevent sex traffickers.” Let’s go with that one, yes. Is there something, is there a go-to resource, is there a way to find all of these non-profits? Or what do people need to do?
- Yeah, there are places like Charity Navigator and Guide Star. Those are probably two of the most popular. There’s also the Foundation Center, which is a national resource. I also like just having conversations with people, because we all innately know and trust people that we have personal relationships with, so I get asked about that a lot actually and I love having those conversations with people when they’re trying to figure out where to put their time and effort.
- And I can go, “Oh, yeah, let me introduce you to my friend, Anne, she’s got a great organization and I think you would actually be a great fit for each other.” We all know those organizations and a lot of times when it comes to tax dollars and things like that, there might be more logical places where you put your money whether it’s your church or religious organization, your university or somebody, sometimes it’s just who sends you a postcard.
- They’re asking for dollars and you had a few to give. So, those are kind of the easiest ways, but if I know somebody who’s volunteering with a place or has already been involved for a long time or works in a specific area that I also care about, then it also gives you insider knowledge, not just what you read on a webpage or look at their rating on a website, but I can actually say, “Hey, you’ve had experience with them. Is this a great place to put my time and money?”
- What’s it like working with them? Are they easy to work with? And so, it’s just those internal conversations that like getting to know a new friend, using those relationships and really being able to leverage them to be able to give more and how fun would it be to go volunteer with friends?
- That’s always a good time.
- Always a good time.
- So, are there any last bits of advice you can give our listeners today on the next steps they should be pursuing for cause marketing?
- The first step is make a decision and so, I think a lot of us hold back, because like when people say, “I’ll have kids when … ” it’s never gonna be a convenient time, so you’ve just gotta get started. The same thing with this. You just have to make the decision, “I think this is a great time. We are at a better time than ever in history now to be able to make this decision and say hey, yeah, I wanna start giving back.”
Whether it’s just you as an individual, whether you have your own company, whether you run a huge multinational corporation, it starts with a decision and once you decide, then you can start putting practical steps in place to get there, to make that goal happen, but just don’t let it just be a good idea that you had one time. Actually make the decision and act on it.
- And for all of our listeners who are listening and they want to have a little bit of help, how can they get in contact with you?
- Yeah, so my website is signify.solutions, so it’s a little unusual from that instance, it’s not a dot com, it’s dot solutions. So, I’d love to talk to somebody there. I am also on Twitter and LinkedIn and Instagram and Facebook and all the places, but I still like having a video chat or face-to-face conversation or even an email exchange, so we can get to know each other a little bit better.
Yeah, signify.solutions is where you can find me.
- Kristi, I also understand you have a gift to give to all of the listeners here today. Can you share a little bit more about that?
- Yeah, we’ll put a link in the show notes, but it is a download on 35 creative ways to give back to your business. So, for anybody that just needs to just get the ball rolling on what some of these outsides of volunteer hours and donation, there are a lot of other things, like I said, that you can be giving and that would be so useful to somebody else.
- So, hopefully, I can get the ball rolling, but we’ll put the link for that, so 35 creative ways to give back to your business that hopefully it will be a fun brainstorming session.
- That’s fantastic and it’s available on your website as well?
- It is, yes it is.
- Perfect and it’s at signify.solutions?
- Yes, ma’am.
- Fantastic. Well, Kristi, thank you so much for being here today. I know I really learned a lot and am thinking of some of our strategies, we do some non-profit work and partnerships with different brands, but I think there’s probably more that we could always be doing.
- You have started some thoughts for me to continue on and I do appreciate your time.
- Oh, absolutely. If I can cause somebody to take an action, then I am thrilled to be here and thank you so much for this time.
- Well, you are the chief do gooder.
- That’s the great thing about starting your own company. You get to make up your own title.
- And yours is actually a very fun title.
- Thanks, I appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time.
- Thank you so much.
- Okay, bye.
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