Raising funds: Linking your business and community

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The event raised more than $1.3 million for cancer research
marketing community
The MSL”team” (in orange jerseys) contributed the largest portion of the annual Do The Ride for cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital. How can you effectively connect community service with marketing success?

Yesterday, I (and about 500 other cyclists) struggled against hills and headwinds to travel 108 km (it felt more like 188) km to raise funds for cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital. Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply Ltd. (MSL), among my first clients when I started the business in 1989, raised the most money — he and his team pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars to propel the fund-raising to a bit more than $1.3 million. Corporate sponsors such as covered most of the event’s ‘hard costs’, meaning that the funds truly will support the cancer research objectives.

The marketing virtues of supporting community initiatives like this cannot be overstated. If brand value has an association with trust, you cannot do much better than by contributing selflessly to the community. Generally (certainly The Ottawa Hospital does this) the non-profit or charity organization will recognize the voluntary contributions with appropriate public recognition.

However, like virtually anything important, sincerity must be the key word here. If you engage in community service FOR the marketing value, rather than for its own worthiness (with marketing rewards resulting as a by-product), I expect you will fail to achieve the results you are seeking. Doing community good has some attributes similar to client-facing association participation and leadership. If you put these initiatives into a hard marketing budget and set out with return-on-investment (ROI) expectations, you’ll likely be disappointed.

People can see through phoniness. I see it when PR people try to pitch a commercial business’s community support.  My immediate reaction: Why is the business doing this? Worse, I’ve had conversations with non-profit community leaders and they describe cynical gifts in kind of junk or oversold materials; and then how the business tries to push for recognition. You won’t get far when you play community service like a game, rather than simply providing the community service.

(There’s another parallel here.  Saying “We have great customer service” is ineffective, if not downright harmful. Your customers, truly, are the only ones who have the right to say that — and you can’t force them to say what you want them to say.)

I don’t claim to be a great leader or anyone worthy of recognition for my company’s community service philosophies. However, we always like reporting on worthy causes. It is best, however, that the good deeds be announced by the organization receiving the funds/support rather than by your business.

In conclusion.  Do good deeds because you sincerely support the cause(es) and community. Don’t be good to win marketing points. If you observe the do and don’t here properly, however, you will achieve significant and highly profitable marketing and branding success.

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