Giving Back: How To Successfully Navigate A Cause-Related Project

Critical Mass
  • Date Published
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CEO of Critical Mass with a passion for doing extraordinary work that transforms clients’ businesses by improving customers’ lives.

For agencies interested in charity and pro bono work, there is a world of opportunity out there. The problem-solving capabilities and empathetic mindset that make you successful in your client work will also make you effective in humanitarian work, but it can be hard to know how or where to begin.

The most important element to consider is fit. Before you embark on a cause-related project, begin by focusing on four questions to make sure that the work will be as successful as possible:

  1. Inspiration: Is this a cause you believe in or something that inspires you?
  2. Motivation: Are your people motivated to take on the project?
  3. Purpose: Will you be proud of the work, and will it truly help the charity realize its mission?
  4. Practicality: Do you have the right skills and resources?

If you can answer yes to all four questions, then the work will inevitably align with your values, capabilities and overall purpose as an agency. Beyond examining these characteristics, here’s some additional advice to ensure you’re finding the best fit for your agency:

Prioritize Experience Over Impressions

Most cause marketers can tell you that donor-audiences – especially young people – want to understand how their dollars and support are driving tangible results. That’s an important insight, but it’s only the beginning.

Experience has shown us that to create a truly impactful program for a charitable organization, we have to fundamentally shift the way an audience perceives a cause. And to create that shift, we use the following philosophy: Experiences are more powerful than impressions. Driving awareness of an urgent problem is important, but designing a way for someone to experience a sense of urgency is far more effective.

Identify Donor Problems, Like ‘Cause Fatigue’

When the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) needed a way to convey the horror and human toll of living in a region plagued by landmines, we knew we couldn’t rely on banner ads and email lists. UNMAS was facing a problem called “cause fatigue,” a saturation of causes in both the minds of donor audiences and the charity market (exacerbated by the fact that the root of this particular cause, landmines, existed far away).

To drive awareness for this, we created a physical exhibit at the New Museum in NYC and augmented it by designing an iBeacon-enabled app called Sweeper. With iBeacons – small sensors that use proximity to trigger interactions in iPhones – we could digitally put a landmine in the museum and bring home a problem that existed out of sight and far away.

As visitors made their way through the exhibit, iBeacons triggered simulations via the app (experienced on headphones and the mobile screen). Visitors weren’t just subject to an impression; they were made viscerally aware of this humanitarian calamity. An emotional experience – whether fearsome or joyful – can get the message out and turn audiences into advocates.

Help The Heroes Connect

The world is full of truly inspiring humanitarian heroes. Sometimes the best way to help them has less to do with creating a story and more to do with helping these heroes and their stories reach new audiences. Then, you can help empower those audiences to get involved.

In Nepal, when a mother is incarcerated with no one to provide guardianship for her children, her children are often incarcerated with her. A Nepalese woman, Pushpa Basnet, has spent a lifetime building an alternative for these children: an orphanage and school called Butterfly Home, which supports the education and growth of children in and out of prison.

To garner support for Butterfly Home, we designed a responsive site that serves as a call to action and digital context for Waiting for Mamu (Waiting for Mother), a documentary that chronicles Pushpa’s heroic story. Visitors to the site can learn how to host a screening while finding out more about Butterfly Home, the lives of rescued children and how to donate. Butterfly Home has garnered international coverage and has helped care for over 500 children.

Connect With Your Values

Agency leaders, like brand marketers, seem increasingly vexed by the question: Should we take a stand on a social issue? But try to ask the question differently: Does the opportunity resonate with our core values and beliefs? If you answer yes, then you can feel confident that not only will you be passionate about the work, but you will find yourself on the right side of history as well.

This is the strategy we took for our work with the Famous Five Foundation, a Canadian nonprofit that advances the struggle for gender equality. As a Canadian-born agency with strong female leadership, we knew our unflinching support for gender equality aligned perfectly with its mission.

Across our agency, men and women alike were eager to step up and contribute their time and talents to the foundation. Most recently, we created a campaign called “Women Belong.” The campaign used headlines such as “Women belong in the kitchen” and “Women belong with the children” and were juxtaposed with portraits and stories of women who do belong in the kitchen, as executive chefs, or do belong with children, as pediatricians. In addition to subverting misogynist rhetoric, the work spread through social feeds and across news media. As it traveled, so did the message that “women belong.”

Our work for these organizations didn’t earn us a dime, but that’s obviously far from the point. In fact, many of us feel we owe these groups a debt for sharing their purpose and passion with us. It’s a good debt to have, since giving is often a gift to the giver as well. And by prioritizing experience over impressions, identifying and understanding the problems potential donors may face, facilitating the connection of humanitarian heroes with the public, and staying true to your values, it’s a gift you can give, too.