Don't Shoot the Messenger

Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift is that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought. But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most part barbarous....The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me." - Emerson

Marketing guru Seth Godin last week extolled the virtues of "hidden charity." You don't give because you get your name on a building, or receive a special CD or a shopping bag of coupons. You give because the rewards transcend the material and commonplace. You give because it's right and good and noble.

Seth didn't say it, but cause marketing is probably polar opposite of "hidden charity." A lot of people would. Most cause marketing reflects the intentions of the creator and is selfish, opportunistic, showy and conventional.

While there are many good examples of cause marketing, the bad ones seem to get the attention. The latter is generally a result of bad or misguided values, not poor practices. The cause marketing promotion between Komen for the Cure and Kentucky Fried Chicken wasn't a failure of practices - in this case pink buckets from which 50 cents was donated to Komen - but a byproduct of bad values and even poorer choices.

Blaming cause marketing ignores the fact that cause marketing gifts can be real gifts when good intentions drive practices.

Instead, we shoot the messenger.

Cause marketing enables real charity by connecting it with commerce. It doesn't require conviction but it does reflect it. People give for the right reasons and the wrong reasons. Like the collection plates at church when I was a kid, cause marketing is there to enable and to collect, not to measure, evaluate or judge. We should let cause marketing do its job and devote our time to teaching people the real meaning of charity.

You may know of a company and cause partnership that flowed through caring to commerce. I know I do.

For seven years I worked with Marc Perlman, President & CEO of Ocean State Job Lots, a 100 store discount retailer based in Rhode Island. Marc supported my nonprofit in many ways, some private, some public. Frankly, it really didn't matter which. Regardless of how Marc chose to support us his generosity didn't flow from his "hidden" side on one day and public on the next. It came from his charity.

My point is that you'll never find charity in cause marketing, or any other type of giving, for that matter. Messengers aren't their noble (or wicked) lords. They just represent them. Charity can only be found in the giver, and that's where our work in society lies. As Seth points out marketers of causes have a long way to go in convincing people of the core reason to give: being part of something bigger than themselves and serving the public good.

Cause marketing can serve a noble and valuable role when character aligns with cause and commerce. Charity stems from why people want to give, not the how and what they give. We should give people just as many opportunities as we can to express and grow their charity and change the world.

Joe Waters is the co-author of the newly released Cause Marketing for Dummies. He writes the web's leading cause marketing blog


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