Cynicism Toward Charities Is On The Rise

by , Dec 7, 2012, 3:08 PM
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Maybe shoppers will be inspired by Hanes’ National Sock Drive, a partnership with the Salvation Army that will put socks on the feet of 500,000 homeless people. Perhaps they will post and repost sweet greeting cards drawn by children with cancer, part of Northwestern Mutual’s “Unstoppable Happiness” effort. Or they may fall for Target’s adorable stuffed Bullseye, who is wearing a kitten-covered sweater this year to generate donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or mail a letter to Santa at Macy’s to raise cash for the Make A Wish Foundation.

Then again, maybe they won’t.  

While Cone Communications’ research has been uncovering a growing trend of consumer cynicism toward cause-related campaigns, it seems to be especially true this holiday season. New research from the marketing company finds that only 16% of consumers say they intend to purchase cause-related presents this year, far lower than the 49% who said they intended to do so back in 2010. And 41% say they are undecided.

Still, a solid majority -- 71% -- say they believe it is important for holidays to throw some muscle behind causes at this time of year, and 75% say they feel better about companies that do so. Yet even as they are more aware (66% in the survey of 1,000 adults say they notice more cause-related efforts this year than in the past), they are also more suspicious, with 68% saying they question whether their purchase has any impact. And 75% say companies should tell consumers more about cause-related efforts. 

One such effort, also from Cone, which specializes in cause-driven efforts, comes from Northwestern Mutual, a digital campaign that allows consumers to share greeting cards drawn by young cancer patients. The theme, “Unstoppable happiness!,” was inspired by an eight-year-old with lymphoma. They hope to raise $25,000 by Dec. 30, with the proceeds going to Northwestern Mutual’s Childhood Cancer Program nonprofit partners, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and Starlight Children’s Foundation. (Every time the card is shared digitally, the company donates $1.)

5 comments on "Cynicism Toward Charities Is On The Rise ".

  1. David Hessekiel from Cause Marketing Forum, Inc.
    commented on: December 10, 2012 at 8:29 a.m.
    To quote Jerry Maguire, "We live in a cynical, cynical world." To counter suspicion on the part of consumers, it has never been more important for companies engaged in cause marketing to communicate the impact of their programs and to enable consumers to feel that they are helping to make a difference.
  2. Hank Stewart from Green Team
    commented on: December 10, 2012 at 9:54 a.m.
    There are three tactics for overcoming this sort of cynicism: transparency, transparency and transparency.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: December 10, 2012 at 11:07 a.m.
    The customers donate, buy and the extra goes to a charity. How much goes towards their administration fees ? Who gets the charitable donation tax deduction ? What about the charity ? What are their administration fees before the money goes for what it is supposed to be used for ? There are many wonderful charities, but know before you give.
  4. Howard Brodwin from Sports and Social Change
    commented on: December 10, 2012 at 12:33 p.m.
    Completely agree with @David Hessekiel & @Hank Stewart above. It's time to "open the kimono" and be fully transparent. Good relationships are built on trust and communication, and that's no different here. For all nonprofits it's imperative to communicate well and often, build trust through being fully transparent, and share your impact not just your needs.
  5. Christen Graham from Giving Strong, Inc.
    commented on: December 18, 2012 at 4:01 p.m.
    The ubiquity of cause campaigns is a wonderful fundraising bonanza for a whole host of non profits doing good work. The flip side of this surge however can lead consumers to feel that they're being pandered to, that there is no loyalty to a cause and that if aligning with a cause doesn't sell that the brand will drop it. So yes- transparency is important as is authentic social responsibility. Don't engage in cause marketing to get headlines that help sell more widgets, clothes, sodas or jewelry. Do it because the cause is important and you can demonstrate having built a community that contributed to real change.

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