I’ve often wondered whether charity giving is negatively impacted by people buying products where a portion of the purchase price goes to charity.

It would seem from one report that it is – the report “ Can Supporting a Cause Decrease Donations and Happiness?  :  The Cause Marketing Paradox.


The report suggests: There is a general belief that a cause marketing purchase is “shopping” and hence is independent of other forms of individual “giving”. Buying a cause marketing (CM) product can also be costless to the consumer, in that the consumer may have purchased the product anyway (without its link to the cause); whereas other forms of giving such as direct donations or matching donations have obvious costs. If consumers participate in these latter cases of giving, which are not costless, they could reduce subsequent donations. With a costless CM purchase, what will the effect on direct donation be? Will it still decrease? If consumers have a mental donation budget, then it should not. However, if they think of a CM purchase as a charitable, moral act, then later donation may indeed decrease.” 

I’ve spoken to people who have purchased cause related items and asked other than purchasing the product do they give anything else to the ‘cause’? Typically, the response has been “I already gave through purchasing the product.” 

Sure, they have given; but if the item had not been available, would they have given more to the cause? I would guess that in the main they would, given that in most cases it’s a matter of cents from each purchase that the cause receives. 

The report also points to opaqueness of cause marketing – “Our results raise concerns about the practice of cause marketing, and suggest that consumers and policy making bodies should be more vigilant about what CM can do to “individuals’ direct donations”, to total donations, and to consumer happiness. The results also have implications regarding the opaqueness of cause marketing programs where firm contribution is unclear.” 

I’d suggest that there is some doubt, concern and questions raised when it comes to clarity of what benefits there are to the cause, the real value to the cause and tracking of value of sales. Often a cause will receive a cheque for an amount, often an amount that can’t be substantiated – lets hope unscrupulous cause related marketing scammers aren’t operating out there, duping consumers and diddling causes. 

Cause related marketing can be measured more than on why, how and how much – there’s often a PR campaign that runs alongside it, in-store there’s likely to be information about the cause and the product itself is likely to have the cause ‘brand’ on it. All raising awareness of the cause – often success, or otherwise has to be measured on more than just financial benefit or gain.  

It would be great to start some real discussion on cause related marketing, and I’d welcome any comments you may have. 

Think on these: 

As someone who gives, when you’re in a shop and see a cause related product, are you inclined to buy it? Sure, I understand that it depends on the product too, but it’s something you’d normally buy. 

As a cause – have you benefited from a cause related marketing programme? If so, did you notice any difference to normal giving?

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