Are bandwagons there for the long haul?

When I recently received yet another invitation to attend a seminar on cause-related marketing, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this corporate fad was all that healthy for the non-profit sector.

Some organisations struggle to attract funding to cover operational expenses because ultimately, corporate giving in South Africa is primarily motivated by the desire to meet BBBEE quotas and build companies’ brands. To meet the former, donors have to report on the number of direct beneficiaries of their donation, and are therefore more motivated to fund programmes than operational expenses, capacity building and succession planning. Similarly, supporting programmes makes more business sense since marketing departments can more easily create media hype and get brand exposure from programmes than from funding organisations’ operating costs. So is cause-related marketing anything more than just a way for corporate donors to use the non profit sector to further their business agenda?

By participating in cause-related marketing, non-profits endorse these corporate motivations for giving and actually discourage funders from supporting their long-term sustainability. Worse, since the funder is allowed to ignore the full costs of delivering the programme – that is, all the elements that need support in order to deliver effective community development programmes  – the non-profit’s case for holistic funding is weakened.

While this type of fundraising brings in funds, promotes philanthropy and potentially grows a larger pool of donors, it is driven by the short-term needs of the donor, not the long-term needs of the non-profit.

Bottom line: non-profits shouldn’t jump on the cause-related marketing bandwagon unless they’re sure it’s taking them further on the road to sustainability.