Embedded Giving - Bad for you, bad for change

New economic research shows that folks who buy green products may act more selfishly and less eco-consciously later on. Those who insulate their houses and use green building products are likely to then crank up the heat. These findings come from studies by the economist Nina Mazar at The Rotman School at the University of Toronto. It's early research, and a small study, but falls in line with what behavioral economists like Dan Ariely, Sendil Mullainathan, and the Freakonomics folks tell us about the not-always rational (actually, the "predictably irrational") ways we act.

So if you shop for good - as we all do and will do plenty of this giving season, no doubt - can we assume that we will then give less? The research doesn't show this, so we need research that will really look at this question. I am by no means unbiased on this question having asked it for years, but it sure seems likely that "giving at the checkout counter" will influence how you "give with your checkbook." Especially when times are tough.

This is a real question for all of us. Cone marketing studies show that more than 80% of want to make purchases from companies that support a cause. There is no doubt about it - cause marketing influences what we buy and from whom.

There is nothing but doubt, however, that the money that is raised this way goes where it is supposed to, serves who it is intended for, or serves the longer term relationship building process between consumers and causes (it seems to serve the relationship building process between consumer and product brands). We do not track these dollars, companies don't need to report them (nor even identify the organization to which they are giving them), no one is required to report them in aggregate form or any other way, and there is not, at this time, any way to know for sure that the money is going for good.

It seems likely that our shopping dollars are destined to challenge our donation dollars in the revenue chain for good. If so, shouldn't we at least have some sense that not only did we get a nice new t-shirt but that cancer research got funded, vaccines got delivered, seals got saved, and kids got insulin?

Read more in Scientific America MIND, "Green and Mean: Eco-Shopping Has a Side Effect"

5 comments:

Robert said...

Hi Lucy,

The statement that "There is nothing but doubt, however, that the money that is raised this way goes where it is supposed to" seems too simple.

Yes, many embedded philanthropy programs are very vague even about how much of the purchase price they donate. "A portion of proceeds will be donated. . ." is far from transparent.

However, there are some embedded philanthropy programs that do make a big positive impact. Toms Shoes, for instance.

best wishes
Robert

Lucy Bernholz said...

Robert

Well, yes, the statement was intended to be deliberately provocative. I'm glad you made note of Tom's Shoes. Tim Ogden, over at Philanthropy Action, has proposed a set of criteria by which we should consider Embedded Giving schemes. Would you be willing to test-run his critera - available here - http://www.philanthropyaction.com/nc/starring_cause_marketing_campaigns/

to Tom's Shoes and see how they do? Your feedback on the criteria would also be welcome.

Thanks!

Lucy

Joan said...

Lucy, thanks for your interesting post. I'm curious - do you have any examples of companies and nonprofits who have worked together to come up with transparent cause marketing campaigns that you feel has generated real impact (and reported back to the consumers on what the impact has been)?

Joan

Joan said...

Thanks for this very interesting post. I'm curious - can you provide any examples of cause marketing campaigns that in your opinion do a good job of addressing the defined criteria, and in particular, have been transparent and impactful?

Look forward to your thoughts.

Joan

Lucy Bernholz said...

Joan

No, I really don't. Product Red has gotten more transparent under pressure, but it doesn't make it easy to track dollars - impact.

Do you know of any?

Lucy