Two cases of successful cause marketing

Marcia Savage Marcia Savage is the features editor at CRN, a publication of UBM. She previously worked at Tech Target and SC Magazine as a writer and editor covering the information security industry. She started her journalism career as a daily newspaper reporter.
About Marcia Savage (4 Posts)

AOL is a household name but that doesn’t mean Blair Cobb, senior director of  cause marketing and community relations for the company, has millions of dollars to give to nonprofits. Her group needs to find unique ways AOL can give back other than writing a check.

Aria Finger, Blair Cobb, Nitzan Pelman, Susan McPherson

AOL’s partnership with Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that provides expanded school programs for kids in low-income communities, does just that. AOL’s employees volunteer to teach students (apprenticeship is the core of Citizen Schools’ model), produce videos that provide exposure for the nonprofit, and the company publishes blog posts from Citizen Schools staff and student, Cobb said during a panel discussion at the Business4Better conference. Having AOL’s executive leaders, including its CEO and Arianna Huffington, participate in the teaching program, helped encourage other AOL employees to engage, she said.

In addition, AOL has provided daily donations of real estate on its homepage to advertise a nonprofit (Citizens Schools has been among the beneficiaries). “We’re providing huge exposure for nonprofits,” Cobb said.

Nitzan Pelman, executive director of Citizens Schools New York, said AOL hosts an event during which students give presentation, which helps boost their confidence. “When the CEO comes to events, it tells employees it matters. It changes the culture in a really valuable way,” she said.

Buy-in from corporate leadership also was a key factor for the successful partnership between and Aeropostale,a clothing retailer targeting the teen market, according to Aria Finger, chief operating officer at the nonprofit., which works to involve youth in social change, teamed with clothing retailer Aeropostale on its Jeans for Teens initiative. Research has shown that the No. 1 thing homeless teens want is a pair of jeans, Finger said during the Better4Business panel. The nonprofit asked Aeropostale to be a recipient of gently worn jeans. In exchange, the donor, typically a teen, would receive a 25 percent discount coupon for a new pair of jeans. The stores are put in touch with homeless youths in their local area. The campaigns, which run in January and draw customers to the stores during a usually slow sales time, have brought in millions of jean donations, Finger said.

Finger said she called more than 200 apparel companies before teaming with Aeropostale. The partnership was a great fit since the retailer targeted the same youth audience. Aeropostale hadn’t done any cause marketing before, Finger said.

She recalled giving presentations to executive leaders at the retailer. “If you have buy-in from the C-suite, it will be a sustainable program,” Finger said. “You need to empower employees to have skin in the game, but you also need buy-in from the C-suite.”

The program has helped with employee retention for the Aeropostale, which has many young employees that enjoyed the opportunity to get involved in the initiative, she said.

The panel’s moderator, Susan McPherson, senior vice president and director of global marketing at Fenton, said the partnerships between AOL and Citizen Schools and and Aeropostale highlight how nonprofits can provide opportunities to businesses.

It’s important for nonprofits to provide companies with ideas and examples of how they can help instead of just asking for money, she said.



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