What's Missing in the Debate on Cause Marketing

Angela Eikenberry has written a compelling critique of “cause marketing” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Cause marketing refers to those products you buy for which a small percentage of the purchase price supports a cause like breast cancer research. Such products have become ubiquitous, and they raise an awful lot of money for charities, but Eikenberry’s case against them is very thought-provoking; rather than elucidate her excellent points, I encourage you to just read her essay in its entirety.

Then you can read the post “Defending Cause Marketing” at the blog, Selfish Giving, because this post is thought-provoking as well; and, by the end, you may think that Eikenberry has a good point, but the world being the way it is, you might as well use your credit card to support your favorite non-profit.

As the president of a non-profit, the Institute for Humane Education, we would probably do well to hook up with cause marketing and get some of those tens of millions of dollars that are generated by chocolate bars and cans of soup, but we haven’t done this. Many people urge us to get ourselves some fair trade, organic cotton T-shirts to sell with our awesome logo and great tag line (The World Becomes What You Teach), but we haven’t done that either. Once we got organic cotton and hemp tote bags with our logo, and they sold out pretty fast, but we didn’t get more. Something about it didn’t seem right.

Why? Because we want people to question consumption. We want people to learn how to create better, healthier, more humane, and sustainable systems. Cans of chicken soup and chocolate bars are not the path to a humane, sustainable, and healthy world. Stuff is part of the problem; it can never be the solution. Until we’ve created systems of mining, production, transportation, energy, and disposal that are truly restorative, we’re largely participating in greenwashing if we suggest that buying a product will help the world.

Yet, our organization need funds as much as every cause, and our e-appeals (far greener than our print ones) bring in virtually nothing. Maybe many people believe they’ve already done their part by buying their donates-five-percent-of-profits yogurt, as Eikenberry suggests, so that they’re less likely to support non-profits directly. How much better it would be if they made their soup from scratch and didn’t buy a single-use, disposable yogurt container, and used all the money they would save from eating a non-processed food diet to generously support those organizations, like ours, that go to the root cause of all our grave challenges and try to solve them.

Hey, prove that this is possible! Feel free to donate to the Institute for Humane Education here :)

~ Zoe

Image courtesy of JoeG2007 via Creative Commons.
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