As a person, who lost his wife to a six-year battle with breast cancer the month of October is bitter sweet. I am heartened by so many organizations championing the cause of breast cancer awareness, research, and treatment – the month is awash with television ads, corporate buildings bedecked with large pink ribbons, and businesses sharing the stories of employees who have “survived” the disease. On the flip side I think about the more than 220,000 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and the approximately 20 percent of those who will lose their lives to the disease.
My personal feelings aside, I caution business leaders from trying to ingratiate themselves to customers by putting their finger to the air of public opinion and selecting a popular cause to enhance their “marketing effectiveness.” Cause marketing (linking a for-profit business to a nonprofit) is a powerful tool for both business and the communities they serve but with so many organizations in need the key ingredients to partnership are authenticity and sustained commitment. Just as networking experts often advise that seeking network connections is pointless whereas building friendships is meaningful, committing to a cause like breast cancer awareness is transformational but giving out pink t-shirts with your corporate logo is not.
I was struck by an op-ed piece in the Huffington Post by Danielle Ripley Burgess highlighting cases where companies do little more than provide lip-service to cancer causes while making great profits selling cancer pins, buttons, and other commemorative items. In that piece Danielle suggests, “We should demand to see how the profits from sales of these materials actually go toward raising awareness. I’ll even go as far as hoping it’s a significant percentage since technically products like these compete with nonprofits across the country who sell similar gear in online stores, yet send 100% of the proceeds to support awareness efforts. If companies really want to raise awareness and support survivors, they need to invest in the cause. Until brands disclose exactly where the money goes, it will appear as though they’re more concerned with boosting sales than raising awareness to save lives.”
With all this pink around, it begs the question, how authentic and committed are your social cause efforts?