Truth be Told – Sponsorship Marketing and The Social Good Report

I constantly watch the marketplace. Sponsorship and sponsorship marketing is not just my career, it is my passion.

At the Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialists™, we work with a large number of charities and non-profits. Brands or sponsors are also on our client list.  Last fall, the Consumer Sponsorship Rankings showed that 55% of Canadians would switch brands if that brand supports a charity or cause. Furthermore, 63% of Canadians would prefer to conduct business with companies that support charities and causes. The problem with this strong affinity and crossover to sponsorship is that there is often too much “good-washing.”

The Social Good Report by communication agency JWT was profiled in the September 30 issue of Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy from The Hilborn Group, and referenced “good-washing.” In my mind, it is a huge issue.

Every day, I see another company tagging onto a charity and not paying for the brand equity it receives. I see charities charging for affinity and delivering poorly. I see brands, such as KFC, tying themselves to breast cancer with “pink buckets of chicken” or (again) KFC to Juvenile Diabetes with $1 per $2.99 mega-jug of Pepsi going to the cause (read that this drink has the equivalent of 56 spoonfuls of sugar and 800 calories)! Who is initiating these catastrophes? Furthermore, what charity wants to damage its brand like that?

The Social Good Report notes that there must be more transparency to avoid such “good-washing.” I say it needs more common sense.

Brands that are not aligned with the mission of the property have no right to be there. An “ethics meter” needs to be placed in corporate sponsor offices to ensure that the properties don’t get taken for a ride. I saw a situation where a telephone card company wanted to work with a major Canadian charity. The deal was awful for the charity, but they took it because they saw dollars coming their way. The calling card company could care less about the charity and its mission. It just wanted to reach that charity’s international audience. When we recommended that the charity walk away from the deal, they felt they could not. They felt that they needed the money to fulfil their mission. Ironically, the money never flowed and their brand and image were tarnished. Great deal that was!

You know, I say it is always about the money… and it is. But the value of a corporation’s brand and a property’s brand is enormous. If the partnership can cause harm to the brand on either side, the deal should not be done, no matter how much cash is on the table. Properties need to say no! Properties need to move from the “Woe is me, I need the money… my stakeholders will forgive me” line to understanding that donors, sponsors, and constituents are not that forgiving. When properties just grab for the money, they will soon pay the price.

Good-washing. The only way it will stop is when the few companies out there doing it are “hung out to dry” and the charities that enable them are punished for such stupidity.

These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well, please comment below. And thank you for reading.

Brent Barootes


  1. Good Washing – a great title. I was once involved with an aboriginal group and they were offered chocolate bar sales as part of their fundraising… I was asked my opinion and I said it was the wrong choice since it has been noted that 80% of north american natives are diabetic, candy sales are a bad choice. We could raise money with another food sales such as cases of apples or pears or other fruit and nuts. The leader bought the chocolate bars anyway and they sat for months, nay years, in storage as no one was willing to buy them. The next choice they talked about was having a “beer garden” at the local Pow Wow. At that point I quit the organization as I realized that there wasn’t any hope for such a group with such leadership.

    Another really mind numbing gig is the “Gift Card Business” that the elementary schools are involved in for fundraising. Every corporation from Canadian Tire to Chapters and others are giving from 2 – 10% to the elementary school… but in the fine print one sees that the gift cards have a “DB – or decreasing balance and if you don’t use the card up it will decrease automatically every month until the balance is ZIP, NADA, zero, squat. I asked my daughter in law to let her Parents Advisory Committee know that I wouldn’t be buying any “Gift Cards” with declining balances from now on. It is like setting fire to the $200. I used to give gift certificates, I don’t anymore. They have time limits on them. There was some legislation to try and stop the time frame but it is hit and miss. Now people get books from me or boxes of high quality chocolates… eat, enjoy, live and die.

    • Vivian,
      It is always buyer beware and I can tell you are very aware. Well done. As Mark notes in his reply post below, non profits and charities need to be aware as well. Thanks for your comments. Brent

  2. Brent,

    I agree with the two examples you have given – Juvenile Diabetes and KFC. These don’t feel right to me either. But I think charities need to stop thinking they need to accept just any money thrown their way. They not only need to be more discerning in working with companies to build authentic partnerships. Notice I said, “working with.” In other words, charities need to be better marketers and stand tall with the companies to insist on a positioning that meets their business objectives, as well as that of the company. I know you and I are on the same page on this and hope my comments can enrich the important message you have presented in your blog. Great work.

  3. Mark,
    Yes we are definately on the same page! We both have seen too many occasions like the KFC – Diabetes fiasco occur. Until they are shouted out (the non profits and charities as much as the brands) it will not stop. As you said, these non profits and charities need to be better marketers. And in my opinion you are the person to assist them. It was great to have you speak at the Western Sponsorship Congress in October and the reviews showed how strong your knowledge is and expertise in the world of cause and affinity marketing. Thansk for leading in this this area. Brent


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