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Pause for a Cause

Written by Bill Tanzer

 

Baseball is now in full swing. For the last three decades, I’ve been involved in baseball, either playing, managing, or umpiring. Every week, once a week, I volunteer with my local Little League. This is not to toot my own horn, expect waves of publicity or receive accolades from the adoring public. I love baseball and have been playing and umpiring since 1955. I want kids to have that same experience and love for the game.

Immediately, after 9-11, Shea Stadium was used as a staging ground for sorting donated supplies. Bobby Valentine, then manager of the Mets, directed hundreds of volunteers standing beside athletes. They boxed up flashlights, batteries, and other supplies for emergency services. The Wilpon family, owners of the Mets, may not have made the best monetary decisions (being swindled by Maddoff for one, making ludicrous decisions with some players – I mean, they’re still paying Bobby Bonilla!) but the family is a philanthropic clan. They use the team’s popularity and games to make people aware of all sorts of issues, from Autism Awareness, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and various charitable organizations. Every week it seems, sideline reporter Kevin Burkhardt interviews a fan in the stands to highlight a local group or cause. Mets provide tickets, and promotional awareness to causes, but they don’t do it for a high-five or a photo-op. They do it because it matters.

Small businesses should pick a cause that actually means something to the company. Pick a cause that represents and what you stand for as a whole. If you own a steakhouse, it makes next to no sense to support the local vegan society (if they would even accept such a donation.)

Also, picking a cause just because it’s trending or the latest issue of the moment is a potential turnoff. In general, supporting a charity simply as a marketing tactic is both alienating and transparently false. Do you support that non-profit because you want publicity or do you support that non-profit because it means something to you, and you genuinely believe in the cause?

It’s not wise to go into cause marketing just to drum up business. Not to mention, do you have the bankroll to support the endeavor? We’re not talking about big behemoth corporations that can afford to donate to charities or groups. The Mets sell tickets even when they stink. If you’re a sole proprietor or own a small business, it means giving up proceeds or man-hours to a group. Selecting one at random in hopes of drawing business is a big gamble and not worth the risk. But if you believe in the cause, and it supports your company’s values, then it’s all the more worth it.

Which brings up the next point: is your customer base likely to support the group or will they hate the organization? If the cause is a fringe non-profit that likes to stage controversial outbursts every now and then, and your customer base is far more conservative, expect a backlash as a result.

Finally, it IS okay to promote the cause as part of your packaging, noting that a portion of proceeds will benefit a local organization. Just don’t take up a cause because you want to profit from the experience. Your customers will notice the difference.

March 31, 2011

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