The “COVID Years” have presented a huge challenge to many small businesses as well as non-profit organizations (understatement of the year…). Besides looking for employees, both are often struggling to gain back the business and donors they had prior to the start of the pandemic. In this scenario, “cause marketing” can result in a boost to both businesses and community organizations and cause potential customers to engage with a brand for the long-term.

What is cause marketing? This is a style of marketing that involves the cooperation of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. For example, TOMS Shoes made a name for itself with their “one-for-one” campaign, where they pledged to deliver a pair of free, new shoes to a child in need for every sale they make. Closer to home, a business might organize a benefit event to raise funds for a local domestic violence shelter and also ask its customers to participate further by donating personal care items to the shelter.

Buying from a cause-minded company seems to mean more to consumers these days. According to a Cone Cause Evolution Survey, the number of consumers who say they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand were associated with a cause or charity has risen to 87 percent.

For franchisees, cause marketing most likely must be done with the blessing of your franchisor, but your franchise can generate a great amount of goodwill and new business. Done well, cause marketing unites franchisees and their employees with their communities and conveys a positive brand image, boosting their local profile.

Of course, cause marketing is not new, and there has always been a strong partnership between small business and community or non-profit organizations. However, with all the social media channels and the ability to share information quickly and widely, a campaign can reach larger groups and even have the potential to “go viral”.

How can your business create a cause marketing campaign that benefits everyone involved?

Choose a cause that speaks to your values and ask for buy-in from your team. The choice must be considered carefully, as small businesses can potentially lose customers if the cause is too polarizing or political, especially now!

Decide how you want to support the cause. Do you want to have a yearly focus, such as a food drive or a large benefit event, or include the cause as part of your monthly marketing campaigns and giving? If you have a small budget, your support for an organization might be to serve as a donation collection point. You might create a donation matching campaign or pledge to give away a certain amount of product or service hours.

Develop a plan. How will you communicate your campaign through digital marketing, a video series or podcast, email or print materials, or all of the above? Will you create a hashtag? Consider how you can involve your community to communicate to a wider audience, including the beneficiary and its supporters. If your support for the organization is monetary, decide how you will share the final or ongoing amounts collected.

Track your results. Although this is often the toughest part of any marketing campaign, it’s helpful to establish a baseline of sales and leads, customer base size or other indicators prior to beginning.

Be authentic. Again, choose a cause or organization that aligns with your leadership and that you can truly get behind for the long term and that will benefit and even involve your local community.

Cause-based marketing often involves more work and coordination than a well-placed Google ad, but it can increase loyalty among your customer base when they can feel good about doing business with you while benefiting others.