Cause Related Marketing: When opposites attract

Charities and businesses can work together in harmony says Richard Cook
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Nowhere is the relationship between charity and the commercial sector potentially more problematic than when the proposed connection concerns the environment.

Big business wants, and now increasingly needs, legitimacy for its worst environmental excesses: the charities, on the other hand, just want and need the corporate cash. But thankfully it doesn't have to be that way.

The Oxford-based charity Earthwatch, for example, has developed mutually advantageous relationships with a range of corporate partners, with, in turn, a range of different and attainable marketing goals and objectives.

"We have a turnover of around pounds 2 million, which makes us only a moderate- sized charity in fund-raising terms. But in terms of the percentage of our income that is derived from the corporate sector, we are right up there among the leaders," explains Earthwatch's director of development Dr Robert Barrington.

"That's because we have made ourselves into an operation that can talk to business in commercial and marketing terms and come up with a range of ways that we can both profit from any involvement.

"I'm convinced it's important for all charities to decide if they really want to form strategic partnerships with companies. It's easy to say you will pick up the telephone and be glad of corporate money if it comes to you but that's not really enough. Charities have to think strategically and build cause-related marketing firmly into their business plans.

"Our trustees took the decision to set up a special corporate unit and develop our fund strategically. Our supporters and volunteer base have backed us up on that, but it does mean that you have to be publicity-driven and dedicated to helping your partner meet their brand objectives, without of course devaluing your own brand.

"That can be especially difficult with environmental charities, because business is so often a big part of the problem."

British Airways Holidays has long been aware of the potential side-effects of mass-market tourism on sensitive eco- systems, and felt that it was an area that it should investigate further. Because, although tourism is an increasingly powerful force for ecomomic good around the globe, the environmental fall-out can be disastrous.

Any company that is seen to take the lead in countering such abuses would therefore not merely be helping a worthwhile cause, it would be creating a difference from its rivals within a hugely competitive industry, and righting a problem that was perceived to be in some small part of its own making.

"We were looking first of all to get involved in a scheme based in Florida which is an important area for our business," confirms British Airways Holidays environment co-ordinator Jan Jackson, "and it definitely helped that Earthwatch was so business-oriented. But, to be honest, we were surprised by how well our relationship with charities have worked. We now use the connection to help our marketing both to customers and to our own staff."

British Airways Holidays donates pounds 1 from every holiday to Earthwatch's project to help preserve the manatees in the Florida Everglades. These unusual-looking, slow-moving beasts are often the victims of the pleasure craft.

But the relationship between charity and corporation doesn't stop there. BA Holidays now supports California Wildlife through the same pounds 1 donation, and also sends staff on Earthwatch fellowships, usually for a week, in which they get the opportunity to work alongside Earthwatch experts and volunteers on specific projects.

In addition, the company has pledged to make environmental issues central to any discussions with suppliers, and to promote good practice to staff and customers through brochures and documentation.

And having started this relationship with the charitable sector, the company is now keen to develop it further. This year, for example, it has broadened its environmental programme to include a World-wide Health Survey aimed at benchmarking environmental standards in hotels contracted by the holidays giant. Results will be featured in next year's brochures.

The danger for the charity is that the partner will not continue to make the advances it originally pledged to make. Word of intent, as the Rio Earth Summit and Kyoto Conference conclusively proved, is always so much easier to give than any real tangible evidence of progress.

"It is the charity's job to monitor progress and work closely with the company to help you both get to where you would like to be," says Dr Barrington.

"We are a non-confrontational charity which means we accept the need to work together with business and don't just see them as the enemy, but it is important that the charity keeps a watchful eye on the situation at all times. We're not in the business of simply hiring out our name."

Earthwatch's relationship with another of its cause-related marketing partners is rather different. At first glance it's harder to see what connection there is between the whisky giant Justerini & Brooks and its Care For The Rare global conservation programme.

"The link-up came first of all from the fact that this was an area we identified as being of special concern to our customers," explains J&B's sponsorship and public relations manager, Julia Thorold. "We are very much an international brand, so we wanted to support charities that would truly have international appeal.

"But we do look at this as part of our overall marketing strategy and that means we expect to get a return on our investment." J&B has so far contributed around pounds 500,000 to conservation projects including Earthwatch.

"The crucial thing for all business looking to invest in cause-related marketing, is that both sides know what they expect from the tie-up - charity and business. And charities shouldn't be frightened of business talking about the relationship in marketing terms because if the deal is working for them it is much more likely to survive the economic bad times than if it's just a whim of the chairman or a connection without tangible benefit."