Cause marketing standards: Guidelines, guardrails, or governor?
On my "State of Event Fundraising" webinar last week, one of the system dynamics I discussed was the progressive merger of the for-profit and nonprofit spaces. I wondered aloud if the fusion is entirely a good thing.
While the nonprofit space can learn a lot from business, we might also observe that, again and again, business will serve its own interests first. It is fantastic that Starbucks donates a small portion of water sales to the developing world (a very small portion, actually: five cents on $1.80 per bottle, or a little less than 3%). It is fantastic that Wal-Mart wants us to “Live Better." It is fantastic that BP is cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico (after helping to pollute it, but who's counting?). All nice things.
But I worry that the desire for social change has been co-opted in order to shift product. What becomes of real charity when my kids think they are creating a better world by buying Pepsi instead of Coke? The social change space needs to offer an authentic alternative.
So I was interested to see this article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy regarding New York state's new truth-in-cause-marketing guidelines. The rules are presumably going to be adopted in other states as well, so that in the next few years we'll have a de facto national cause marketing regulatory standard.
I wonder what the impact of the guidelines will be. Will they really "guide" actions? Will they serve as guardrails to excise out some of the more questionable programs? Or will they serve to slow down the cause marketing space and catalyze a resurgence in traditional fundraising? My hope is the last. But I have a feeling that this genie isn't going back in the bottle, and that somehow all that the guidelines will do is channel everything to move faster down a narrower track.