Green 2.0

On the fourth Wednesday of the month, Marketing:Green focuses on green media strategies and opportunities within various types of media. The column has evolved into an in depth analysis of various major issues in green media and marketing. This month marks the beginning of a two-part series exploring the contentious watershed issue of brand defensiveness and charitable sponsorship.

In 2007, blogging had generated enough interest and revenue to be declared a sustainable business sector by analysts. Along with services such as eBay and PayPal, one of the most significant transformations of business-as-we-know-it in modern society had occurred. It was proven that, literally, anyone could start a real, sustainable business from home.

Web 2.0 is the term loosely associated with the phenomenon of the do-it-yourself opportunities provided by early web infrastructure coupled with direct online social connection. Some of the most successful web entrepreneurs realized this and built empires selling into this emerging market. Google owes a tremendous amount of its early success to having leveraged a miniscule amount of attention and/or revenue from an infinite number of small businesses (e.g., bloggers, etc.).

Social media tools like Facebook increased the potential even more, by giving direct access to hundreds of millions of people in a single non-anonymous directory. Entrepreneur Sean Parker (famous for founding disruptive peer-to-peer music sharing utility, Napster) saw the potential for charities, specifically, by creating a Facebook application called "Causes." This linked individual "fundraisers" to 501 3c-designated charities, allowing anyone on Facebook to pick a cause, upload an icon, and associate the cause with a real charity. The potential unlocked here for charities would seem to be of Google proportions.

The deep irony, however, is that the charities themselves present a significant barrier to increased flow of sponsorship dollars. Charities, as it turns out, are not so quick to embrace a world where any individual or business can raise money for their respective causes. They are, in fact, surprisingly defensive about "just anyone" being able to raise money on their behalf.

Some charities get outright litigious in cases where money is raised for "their" cause. Very recently, Susan G. Komen for the Cure launched several lawsuits against other cancer-focused non-profits, in order to prevent them from using the signature phrase "for the cure" in fundraising efforts. Also, as the Wall Street Journal reported in early August, the charity is also "sternly warning charities against dabbling with pink, its signature hue."

There are obvious moral problems with brand defensiveness for non-profits. Charities have special status and privilege in our society as supporters of socially worthy causes. In the case of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, should donors expect that dollars are spent on expensive litigation, in order to block other cancer-focused charities from raising money? Should the greater good of fighting cancer not outweigh the right for a non-profit to block its so-called competitors? The Wall Street Journal pulls no punches in a headline describing the Komen litigations: "Nonprofits Aren't So Generous When a Name's at Stake."

I've talked to many national and international charities that use the excuse of donors needing to know where their money is going, in order to defend their hyper-defensive posturing and brand protectiveness. In this day, this is a strong sign that such charities truly don't understand social media and its associated opportunities. Consumers, now more than ever, are quite capable of performing due diligence amongst themselves on the web. Plus, there are stringent consumer protection laws already in place and enforced by state and federal agencies.

Currently, of the $300 billion a year being donated to charities, only 5% comes from businesses and corporations. This fact often upsets people, who cite corporate greed. However, personal experience has confirmed on several occasions that major branded charities will only deal with "partners" of a certain size and stature. In the early days, 85% of Google's revenues came from small businesses. If charities hope to ride the tide of the modern media era, they will certainly have to become less defensive. For those that do, potentially huge opportunity awaits given the public's currently unquenchable desire to do good in a world that desperately needs it.

Part 2 of this series (Marketing: Green, Sept. 22) will explore charities that do "get" the realities of the new media realm. If you represent one, please contact me directly to share your success story.

2 comments about "Green 2.0 ".
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  1. Kern Lewis from GrowthFocus, Inc., August 25, 2010 at 4:20 p.m.

    Having worked for a charity for a number of years before re-entering the for-profit arena, let me share one insight that partially exonerates charities who seem "huffy" about who supports them. It is not elitism as often as it is fear: If anyone can adopt their cause, there is no control over who does. What if someone with a strong negative reputation aggressively jumps in to support your charity? What happens when the word gets around? Will this be a PR disaster? How much at risk is our "good name", which has been carefully nurtured over the years, on which much fund-raising success is based?
    There are legitimate reasons for non-profits to try to control the use of their brands in the marketplace. Most social media buzz and support will be constructive. It only takes one "hijacking" however, to destroy a lot of hard-won goodwill.
    (I do agree that Susan G. Koman's actions are way over the top, btw, so there is risk/reward line that has to be found for each outfit.)

  2. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., August 26, 2010 at 9:49 a.m.

    You're absolutely bang on about finding the right balance, Kern.

    However, I've yet to see any real evidence that charities somehow fold by alienating a few judgmental donors or board members. The large branded charities especially need to realize how much tolerance there actually is in the marketplace for co-branding with a variety of businesses/markets.

    It very much reminds me of the old days of the internet, when my consultancy approached a progressive municipality about building a web services directory. "What if the pornographers get their hands on it?" was their answer.

    To top it off, good charities and bad charities have little control today, ultimately, over their reputation. Social media has changed the landscape already under their feet. My belief is that the cream tends to rise to the top.

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