Why Content Marketing Matters to Cause Marketers — And How to Get Started

By Peter Panepento

Five years ago, content marketing was an unfamiliar phrase inside the offices of the charity Share Our Strength.

Today, it is central to how it delivers on its mission.

During that time, Share Our Strength has developed a comprehensive library of videos, written stories, white papers, and other materials that spotlight its work and raise awareness about the issue of childhood hunger in America. This content is embedded into all of its communications and is shared with a number of outside partners who help the charity reach its intended audience.

All of these materials have helped Share Our Strength reach millions with its story and attract new supporters.

For charities that are looking to beef up their content marketing efforts, Share Our Strength offers an excellent model. It has invested in creating useful, relevant content about its work and mission and has built an array of partnerships that help deliver that content to its key audiences

Its content-marketing program has also helped the charity gain support among companies that support its work through cause marketing efforts, says Clay Dunn, Share Our Strength’s interim chief communications and brand officer.

“Companies are now less concerned about the return on our investment,” Dunn said during the Cause Marketing Forum’s annual conference in Chicago. “They are seeing so much impact in the stories that we’re telling and sharing.”

No Kid Hungry in the Summer
Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry in the Summer campaign — which it launched in 2013 in partnership with the Arby’s Foundation — showcases the power of effective content marketing.

The campaign aims to put a spotlight on the charity’s mission —ending childhood hunger in America — by focusing on the fact that summer is the hungriest time of the year for many children because they don’t have access to school breakfast and lunch programs that help them during the school year.

To do that, the charity has worked with Arby’s to create an array of marketing efforts that aim to inspire people to take action — whether it’s through donating money or food, advocating for Congress to create a summer meals program, or through volunteering.

“We went through all of the communications channels that we had and tried to decide what content would work best for each of those channels — and then build in ways for people to engage,” Dunn says. “We found that one singular call to action over a campaign doesn’t really work. It’s important to have a mix of things that people can do.”

For low-income families that are struggling to afford food, it created a text-messaging service that allows them to quickly find the closest meal site.

It developed a social-media campaign around the hashtag #savesummer — and provided the public and its corporate partners with an array of sample social media messages that they could use to help spread the word about the problem of summer hunger.

It launched a fundraising campaign — spurred by a matching donation by Arby’s. Arby’s also invested in a tour in which it visited summer meals sites around the country to raise awareness about the issue and distributed information and materials. It also piloted a program in which it provided information about the availability of summer meals in Arby’s stores.

All of these efforts were built around telling interesting stories about the people who are most affected by the issue of hunger and those who are working to tackle the problem.

One such story — a 3-minute video it created to spotlight a Detroit woman who turned her backyard into a summer meals site for children in her neighborhood — drew so much attention that The Today Show ended up profiling the woman.

Getting Started
Dunn says Share Our Strength’s content marketing efforts have helped the charity become more valuable its corporate partners — many of whom are looking for ways to tell the story of their good works. By creating its own content library, Share Our Strength gives its partners the opportunity to use that content in their own communications — and it helps the charity reach a wider audience.

Dunn offers the following advice to groups that are looking to follow a similar path:

Make the case for content
Compelling written stories, videos, and infographics don’t just appear — they require an investment. And in organizations where resources are tight, it might not be easy to invest in content marketing without first being able to show that the investment will yield results.

Share Our Strength cleared this hurdle by securing outside support, Dunn says. The organization included plans to develop some basic content assets as part of a grant proposal it submitted to the Wal-Mart Foundation. This grant support helped get the seed money that was necessary to get started.

Build a basic library
Many organizations try to employ content marketing strategies without first having valuable, relevant content to share.

Before Share Our Strength focused on distribution, it concentrated on building what Dunn calls a library of “foundational stories.” For example, it developed a library of short videos about the organization and the people it helps and worked to make sure all of its stories laddered up to its overall message.

Once it had enough original content, it had the raw materials it needed to carry out efforts like its summer campaign.

Meet the audience where they are
Once you have the right content, you can focus on finding ways to reach your target audience.

In the past, nonprofits had to rely on the kindness of others to get public service announcements aired on radio or TV stations, or they had to pitch traditional media for coverage. Today, organizations can employ a number of different channels and techniques — from traditional broadcast and media channels, to social networks, online communications, e-mail marketing, and content partnerships.

The most successful content marketing efforts are strategic about which channels they employ. They know which audiences they most want to reach, and tailor their marketing efforts to reach those audiences.

Make it sharable
Share Our Strength’s content marketing effort is successful, in part, because Dunn says that the organization is willing to let others frame its message in their own voices. Rather than simply producing canned content, Share Our Strength works with its partners to give them the opportunity to use its stories on their terms.

To do that, it offers many of its partners the opportunities to use its raw video assets in their own videos.

This is especially valuable for its cause-marketing partnerships, since its corporate partners are able to incorporate Share Our Strength’s story into their own communications and marketing efforts.

"I Dough, I Dough"

Campaign: "I Dough, I Dough"
Company: Ben & Jerry's
Nonprofit Partner: Human Rights Campaign
Launch Date:  6/26/2015

IDoughIDough-header-image.jpg

Campaign:

Consumers can celebrate last week’s marriage equality ruling with a spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s, “I Dough, I Dough” cookie dough ice cream, temporarily renamed after the historic ruling. The company was one of the earliest to grant employee benefits to partners, regardless of sexual orientation. Consumers can buy the flavor this summer at retail locations or order pint sleeves from the Human Rights Campaign, with 100 percent of the purchase price going to the organization’s fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. 

What Corporate Decision Makers Look for in a Nonprofit Partner

By Peter Panepento

Impact, not sales, is the top motivation for companies when they select nonprofit partners for cause marketing campaigns, according to a new survey by the consultancy For Momentum.

Make no mistake: sales and public image are also vital components of effective cause-marketing programs.

But a small survey of top national brands — released by For Momentum at the Cause Marketing Forum’s annual conference — shows that, above all, charities need to be able to clearly demonstrate how a company’s investment will impact their missions and show how their work aligns with the company’s brand.

About three-quarters of the companies surveyed — 76 percent — say that impact is the top factor for selecting a nonprofit partner.

However, although impact is a top priority for most businesses, merely showing that an investment will achieve results is not enough for most companies to support a charity.

The survey also found that companies want to make sure that they are supporting programs that connect closely to their brand.

That means charities must research and understand the company’s brand goals — and how it measures the success of its cause-marketing arrangements.

“The most important takeaway for nonprofits is to do your homework,” said Mollye Rhea, For Momentum’s president and founder.

According to the survey, more than 9 in 10 companies say they select partners based on whether their programs align with the company’s brand — so charities need to make sure they are being careful in terms of where they cast their nets.

The full report is available for download on For Momentum’s website.

Hop 'n' Roll

Campaign: Hop 'n' Roll
Company: Gymboree, Kiwi Crate
Nonprofit Partner: KaBOOM!
Launch Date: April 7, 2015

Campaign:

Children’s retailer Gymboree has launched a new clothing line called Hop 'n' Roll with the help of a cause marketing campaign. One percent of the price of each Hop ’n’ Roll product sold (up to $50,000) until May 31, 2015 will be donated to nonprofit KaBOOM! with the goal of raising enough money to build a place to play for 10,000 deserving kids. In addition to the percentage of sale donation, customers will be invited to donate online and in-store. Also supporting the effort is subscription service Kiwi Crate, which has created a limited-edition crate for children to create a racing wind car. The crates will include a special offer to shop Gymboree and will sell for $5, with all proceeds being donated to KaBOOM! 

Our Take:

This campaign offers a solid example of how cause is evolving to become more fully integrated across retail channels. The fact that Gymboree is providing a (small) donation as a percentage of purchase shows consumers it has skin in the game, making the ask at register more authentic. According to KaBOOM!, the amount of the ask is being left to the discretion of sales associates, which will provide valuable learnings for all partners. Looping in Kiwi Crate is another win-win for all involved, potentially generating foot traffic to Gymboree, increasing donations to KaBOOM! and securing new subscription customers for Kiwi Crate. Overall, a solid brand fit and easy-to-understand integration for these kid-focused partners.

She Makes It

Campaign: She Makes It
Company: Nordstorm, Piece & Co.
Nonprofit Partner: None
Launch Date: March 9, 2015

Campaign:

Nordstrom and social enterprise Piece & Co. have just revealed a new collection of apparel and accessories that connects style with global impact. Eight brands (Alice + Olivia, Current/Elliott, DVF, Joie, Rebecca Minkoff, Theory, The Honest Company, and Tory Burch) worked closely with Piece & Co. to source handmade materials and fabrics that are then incorporated into their pieces – dresses, tops, skirts, shorts and handbags. The collection will be available at select Nordstrom stores and on nordstrom.com. By joining forces with Nordstrom, these brands are able to create more than 5,000 jobs through Piece & Co. 

Our Take:

Nordstrom has recently started dipping its toe into the world of social impact and so far, their initiatives are woven into the very fabric of their product, a smart place to start. As a high end retailer, teaming up with well known designers to utilize unique, handmade fabrics expands their product line to offer distinctive pieces not found on the racks of competitors. The fact that the fabrics empower women in developing countries makes the line and its related story all the more compelling.