ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
I want to incorporate cause marketing into our trade show exhibit, but I need to be sure we select an appropriate beneficiary organization. Can you provide some tips and strategies for the selection process?
Contributing to charitable causes certainly adds valuable support to the organizations, but doing so can also increase everything from trade show lead counts and booth traffic to product awareness and brand affinity. However, choosing the right charity is key to your success. So here are a few tips to ensure that your charitable giving is a win for both the nonprofit and your marketing program.
Before you can develop a cause-marketing campaign, you need to first understand existing relationships and the parameters necessary to establish new ones. So contact your company's internal outreach or management team to research which charities the firm already has ties to. Many firms support nonprofits such as United Way Worldwide, which in turn partners with multiple organizations, so those connections may already exist.
If your firm doesn't have these established relationships, determine what internal hoops you must jump through to obtain them. Is there formal paperwork that needs to be filled out? Must you complete charity research or seek specific approvals? Are you even allowed to establish new partnerships? Bottom line: Figure out what you can and can't do and what your company's procedure is.
Next, identify if any established charities are a good match for your exhibit-marketing objectives and audience. (If your company has no charities of choice, you can move on to the next step.) Just because the charity pairs well with your company doesn't mean it'll be a hit with each show's attendees. So figure out if these charities pluck the heartstrings of the folks walking the aisles. If they do, great! You can start developing your cause-marketing campaign. But if they don't, you'll need to identify (and seek internal approval for) charities that tick all your boxes. To do that, research your target market and identify members' soft spots, so to speak. For example, do children's charities resonate with attendees, or are they more inclined to support Wounded Warrior or animal nonprofits? Also consider giving your attendees a choice of perhaps three charities to which to donate. This tactic is particularly helpful if no single organization seems to elicit warm fuzzies from your entire target audience.
Once you have a general subject area to focus on, establish a list of potential charities and check out each option's past IRS filings and status to determine how funds are dispersed. Obviously, you want the majority of your dollars to go to end recipients as opposed to lining the pockets of the programs' administrators.
One of my go-to resources is Charity Check 101 (www.charitycheck101.org) because it offers a plethora of free information on nonprofits, such as their employer identification number (EIN), tax-exemption status, total assets and revenues, etc. I also love Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), which provides a ton of information and rankings with regard to accountability and transparency, financial performance, and income. It also offers pie charts breaking down contributions and expenses so you can easily understand where the group's money comes from and where it goes.
After you have identified a nonprofit and you have tentative corporate buy-in to proceed, contact the charity directly to see if you're a good fit. These organizations have demands, interests, resources, and guidelines just like your firm, and they may have their own stipulations for working with corporations. In fact, they may turn you down outright depending on their own mandates.
So first see if they're open to the connection, and then ensure they understand your process. For some charities, this could be their first foray into the trade show world, so make sure contacts understand your goals, what deliverables you're offering, and what's required of them in return. Also pick their brains in the process, as they may offer advice to help you be more successful in your endeavors.
Cause marketing can certainly be a wonderful addition to almost any exhibit-marketing program. The key is to get it right straight out of the gate, which means identifying the perfect organization to receive your charitable gift. Armed with the aforementioned advice, you should be able to locate and vet myriad firms, allowing you to hone in on the best ones to fit your needs – and theirs.
— Kismet Mikos, CTSM, trade show manager, Nordson Corp., Duluth, GA