Cause Marketing – charity or business?

Cause Marketing is at the centre of the Pinktober / Pink Ribbon movement. It is about a company being seen to be ‘giving’ to a cause, rather than sharing a small part of the profit they make from using the cause. It is about the consumer making a fashion statement, almost as much as it is about supporting a cause. It is almost as though the companies are providing the goods and then it is up to the consumer and the non-profit as to how well they display the item and use the money which is generated. A bit like the argument that arms manufacturers just make the products, it is up to the buyer as to how they use them. In a small way that is true. Pink Ribbon merchandise is just another way to make a profit, but the profit comes from making the consumer believe that the company is a real contributor to the cause and not just taking advantage of another market opening up for them to increase profits. After all, cause marketing is not charity, it is business. The real threat is that it may overtake, or even replace, philanthropy.

In some ways this has already started with some big non-profits being more concerned with Image than Substance, and feeling the need to trademark their name and slogan, and even suing smaller charities for using a slogan that they feel is theirs.

Don’t charities and non-profits now seem more like a for-profit company, with a CEO with a large pay packet and bonuses and a marketing department? How much money must a charity now have to raise every year just to pay the staff? In addition they have a large number of no-pay workers (volunteers) who are really giving so much to their chosen cause while being ignored when it comes to decision making. What incentive do these paid employees of a charity/non-profit have to actually achieve the ultimate goal of the cause they work for? None. If they achieve the ultimate aim of the organisation they put themselves out of a job which they may have studied at university degree level to equip them for the job.

The ultimate success of Pink Ribbon Cause Marketing should be to ensure that 100% of the product profit goes to find cures for breast cancer. Early Stage Breast Cancer is curable, but still 30% of those diagnosed as Early Stage will have a recurrence and develop Late Stage / Stage IV / Metastatic Breast Cancer, for which there is still no cure, only treatments. Of the money raised for research funding 97% of it goes to researching Early Stage Breast Cancer which does not kill and only 3% to Metastatic Breast Cancer which does. They may say that some of the 97% is used for trials on MBC patients, but that is only because we are easier guinea pigs to get hold of (what do we have to lose?) and because the aim of the trial is to have a treatment to prevent cancer spreading and not to treat it once it has spread. It’s not the same thing.

If charitable organisations become too fixated on Image, Marketing and employing staff, aka ‘attracting the right people to work for them’, with high wages and bonuses as a way of impressing corporate sponsors then aren’t these charitable organisations missing the real reason that they were started in the first place. As someone on a low wage I am not impressed by how much they spend on their ‘non-corporate’ structure, as some corporate sponsors may be, I am impressed by how little they spend on their ‘non-corporate’ structure. After all if I donate money to a charity I don’t want to know that they have to raise ‘x’ amount just to pay the boss. I want to know that my money is going to make a difference to the cause that I choose to support.


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