The world of cause is constantly evolving, which sometimes presents challenges to finding the common ground needed for coherent action. Is a cause an issue? A program or partnership supporting an issue? A vision for the future? All of the above? None of the above?
Merriam-Webster says a cause is "a person or thing that is the occasion of an action or state; especially: an agent that brings something about." According to that basic definition, my dog, Zero, is a cause. He certainly inspires action (playing, walking, feeding) and is the agent of bringing things about (love and compassion on my part, and, more frequently, irritation on the part of my husband).
Although we benefit from having Zero in our lives, perhaps that's not enough.
What if I tell you that Zero is a rescue? Does that make him a cause? Or, maybe he was a cause when he was still in the shelter, but is no longer a cause - since he's no longer in need - today. A more common view is probably that one homeless dog is not a cause, but several dogs could be.
Despite Webster's inclusion of cause agents as central to their definition, many of my colleagues would say that individuals can stand for a cause - much the way Bono tries to stand for Africa - but aren't a cause in and of themselves.
That means there's a difference between the cause ambassador and the cause itself. Zero isn't a cause, but for me, he effectively stands for an end to neglect and cruelty - an idea that can get me to hand over buckets of cash to animal rescue groups, particularly those in dire straits. (If you agree, check out the urgent appeal from these selfless folks. Do it today. Do it for dogs like Zero.)
Where was I? Oh, right: to pass our basic litmus test, causes have to touch more than one life. My husband would suggest that a hovercraft fits the bill, since he'd share it with his friends and our formerly-stray dog. (And if you want to give to his cause, he'll gladly accept PayPal.) But, I think others might rule that out, which suggests that causes also should have some kind of collective social or environmental benefit.
Beyond that, I'm not sure if there is a strong consensus. Oh, sure. You can find lots of common ground around cause marketing and cause branding and cause partnerships. But how do you define cause itself? What should count? Who decides? And what's the best definition you've heard?
Those may sound like simple questions, but if you can't really define it, how can you gauge the impact? If you don’t know what it is, how can you tell if you’re being effective? After all, tons of time and billions of dollars are being spent in the field, and I'd like to think that it amounts to more than Zero.
-Talya Bosch, Former Account Director