Cause Marketing: Ten Common Fundraising Mistakes Small Businesses Make

The majority of consumers, staff and investors now prefer businesses that do more than simply make money. Through their actions, they are challenging businesses to help tackle social and environmental problems too. 

Incorporating fundraising into your marketing can be a powerful way to grow your business, feel good and make a difference in the world at the same time. But it doesn’t always work out as intended.

In this first of two blogs on the wider topic of fundraising through your business, I share ten common mistakes businesses make–some of which I’ve made too. Then in my next blog Cause Marketing: How to Incorporate Fundraising into your Marketing, I’ll take you through a simple nine-step process to follow if you want to raise funds for causes joyfully, effectively and legally.

You can also listen to an audio version of this blog on the Give-to-Profit Podcast HERE

1.  Breaking the law 

Many well-intentioned businesses mention they are donating a percentage of sales/profits to a charity/cause in their marketing and are not aware that in many countries they could be breaking the law by doing this. In some countries simply saying ‘I donate 10% of profits to charity’ makes it obvious you’re not familiar with cause marketing best practices.

While I was surprised to hear about such legislation I now realise this has been put in place to encourage businesses to respect consumer and cause interests, plus ensure the funds pledged are donated to causes effectively. I’ve found the legislation a helpful framework for points to agree with causes and processes to put in place whenever I’m raising funds.

I share more about this in my blog Cause Marketing: Legislation and Best Practices.

2.  Undertaking the wrong fundraising activities

There are a few critical success factors that determine whether a cause marketing campaign will be a success. These include getting clear on the desired outcomes of your fundraising activities and choosing activities that are aligned to this and appeal to a large number of your target audience.

For example, if you want to raise as much money as possible plus attract more clients, leads or sales, choose fundraising activities lots of your target audience will be interested in and support.

Whenever I’ve run online fundraising events on hot topics I’ve raised more money than when I picked more unusual topics. Of course, sometimes we don’t know what will appeal to our audience and that’s where running fundraising events rather than free events can be a good way to test the demand for what. It is often a case of trial and error.

Even knowing this I still fell into this trap last year when I started promoting Give-to-Profit with fundraising events. You see Give-to-Profit isn’t meeting a critical business need keeping huge numbers of people awake at night. It’s more of an aspirational solution. People who resonate with charitable giving and social impact seem to LOVE it. But there’s a large educational element for most people who need to understand more about what Give-to-Profit is about before they will buy or donate. Because of this I’ve found take up for fundraising Give-to-Profit events is not as effective as offering a free taster experience or to speak at others’ events. Once people hear what Give-to-Profit is about and understand the benefits to their business of supporting causes (e.g. they could save time and money) many will buy a Give-to-Profit book or service. With this topic, I make more money (for me and causes) when I give a free taster first and then make donations to causes for every purchase made (the specifics of which vary across my product/service range).

For fundraising ideas, download my free ebook: 52 Ways to Raise Funds for Causes through Your Business.

3.  Making fundraising ideas too complex 

The easiest and most effective way to raise funds through your business is to choose fundraising activities that can easily be incorporated into day-to-day business activities or that are designed to take you nearer the achievement of core business goals. When you don’t do this it becomes something else to allocate resources to and could distract you (and your staff) from critical business activities. Keep your fundraising ideas simple.

In my book, I share how I got totally distracted from my business when I decided to host The Give-to-Profit Fundraising Tele-summit a few years ago, at a time before I had the expertise or time to do this. I did employ people to help me but it still didn’t generate the funds I’d hoped as it was such a large learning curve and wasn’t directly related to my core business activities at the time. Knowing what I know now, I would have been better doing a simple fundraising event or campaign. That said, the support and response I got then gave me the encouragement to develop Give-to-Profit.

This is why most of my fundraising activities are really simple now. I’ve mapped donations across many business activities e.g. I sell bracelets I make when speaking at events, I make a donation through an organisation called B1G1 for every product/service I sell, and I run fundraising events for my community and business network. Fundraising is much easier when you remember the first three letters are FUN and you keep your fundraising activities simple.

4.  Choosing the wrong cause to support

It’s much easier to raise funds for causes you connect with personally, which are aligned with what your business stands for and are geared up to partner with businesses. However as with all types of organization, some causes are poorly run, ineffective, waste resources and don’t achieve the outcomes they are working towards. I therefore suggest getting clear about the type of cause you want to support and doing your research before choosing which cause to support, as I write about in my blog How to Choose a Cause to Support.

5.  Failing to engage with causes

As I refer to above, there may be legislation that applies to your fundraising, particularly if you mention this in your marketing or sales campaigns. This often includes the requirement to have a written agreement put in place between you and the cause you are supporting.

Whether or not this is a legal requirement, I feel its a matter of courtesy to get in touch with causes to let them know you are fundraising on their behalf and to agree on practicalities around this e.g. the best way for you to collect and process donations. Some causes have lots of experience in partnering with businesses and may be able to help you with your fundraising activities. I encourage you to see causes as potential businesses partners and to explore whether there is any potential to collaborate with each other. As I write about in my book, I’ve often found my desire to raise funds for causes has lead to many other business benefits and some wonderful long-term partnerships and friendships.

6.  Not promoting fundraising activities enough

As with selling products and services, there’s no point in your fundraising activities being the world’s best-kept secret. Deciding what fundraising you will do and putting up a page or blog on your website plus a few mentions on social media is unlikely to attract enough interest to reach your fundraising goals–unless you have an extremely compelling reason for people to support you or a huge following/audience. You’ll usually also need a well thought out marketing campaign that shares what you’re doing and why. If you’re incorporating your fundraising into your marketing campaigns or sales funnels this could mean only a small tweak to existing processes. 

7.  Misalignment with your values, behaviours or business activities

Choosing a cause or fundraising activities that don’t reflect your values or actions will sabotage your fundraising efforts. For example, there’s no point in supporting causes that strive for world peace if you’re confrontational or a bully towards others. Likewise, if you’re marketing communications focus on money, money, money and you rarely express any concern for impact, some people may question whether you’re fundraising for the right reasons. By contrast when you align your business and charitable giving to what’s important to you, and this is reflected in what you say and do, you’ll feel a greater sense of meaning and connection to your business. Plus you’ll come across as being more authentic and trustworthy in the eyes of others.

8.  Not measuring the impact of your fundraising efforts

Research consistently shows that most consumers, employees, and investors prefer businesses that care about their impact rather than those who simply focus on making money. Part of being able to demonstrate you care involves measuring your impact–not just the value of funds you’ve raised but the impact these funds have once they have been put to use by the cause. Measuring the return of your fundraising efforts enables you to assess what works best plus gives you valuable data you can use to demonstrate your impact to customers, staff and other stakeholders.

9.  Not telling others about the impact of your charitable giving

Keeping your personal philanthropic endeavors quiet is fine but keeping quiet about your business giving could be sending clients to your competition and isn’t helping raise the profile of any cause you’re supporting. From a customer point of view, how much more powerful would it be to know how your donations have changed lives or made a difference? It can be something as simple as a poster in your shop/reception, sending someone a card, or sharing a short film. There are many ways to share your impact and story as I explain in my Give-to-Profit book.

10.  Treating fundraising and business giving as peripheral activities 

In large organisations business support of charities and social causes often falls within the realms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or as a social committee. But CSR can be perceived as more of a tickbox exercise where social impact is not embraced strategically across a business. 

Small businesses have more agility to align business giving and fundraising activities to their business and it’s OK to run some fundraising activities as one-off events e.g. running a one-off fundraising event to support a national campaign such as Children in Need or having a money collection box at your place of work. If you’re just starting out with your charitable fundraising it’s fine not to set out with the intention of implementing business giving activities across your business. In fact, it may not be appropriate for you to ever do this.

However, no matter what stage you’re at with your fundraising or business, it is important to adopt a strategic approach and to make smart decisions about the extent to which you want to incorporate it into your marketing or business. When charitable giving is a peripheral activity it can appear as an after-thought rather than an expression of what your business stands for. This could be damaging to the reputation of your brand and sustainability of your business.

Core message: incorporating fundraising into your marketing and business can be a powerful way to grow your business but only when it’s done well.

If you I hope you’ve found this blog helpful. Please do share your comments below.

You may also want to check out my blog Cause Marketing: How to Incorporate Fundraising into your Marketing in which I share nine steps to follow if you want to avoid these mistakes and to raise funds for causes–joyfully, effectively and legally. Remember to check this out if the purpose of your fundraising is to both grow your business AND have a positive social impact in the world. 

You’re also welcome to join the Give-to-Profit Fundraising Challenge anytime where I teach business owners, entrepreneurs, and SME leaders how to use fundraising to help grow their business AND do good at the same time. It’s an online course you work through at your own pace with an online forum and live Q&A calls to help you implement your fundraising ideas. Click HERE to find out more. 

Kind wishes, 

P.S. If you want to learn how to grow your business by incorporating fundraising into your marketing or business, check out The 90-Day Give-to-Profit Fundraising Challenge

Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to improve the lives of a million people – by making it easy for businesses to be a profitable force for good, and through her support of causes that tackle poverty, education and social justice.

Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes and Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. She loves doing humanitarian work, fundraising and living by the beach in Scotland.

Alisoun is also the founder of an online business training academy and has written the following free resources:

  • Ebook: 101 Ways To Attract Great Clients, With Heart, Integrity & Social Impact (click here)
  • Ebook: 52 Ways to Raise Funds for Charities and Social Causes Through Your Business (click here)
  • Ebook: The 9 Secrets to Signing Up Clients Without Selling (click here)
  • The Online Course Creator Checklist – download here.

You can connect with Alisoun here:

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