April 5, 2011; Source: The Agitator | A University of Michigan study has found that cause marketing hurts charitable giving. More precisely, the study found that giving decreased if a donor had previously purchased a cause-related product, even if the donor was going to make the purchase independent of any charitable considerations. As a result of her findings, Professor Aradhna Krishna, the study's lead researcher, suggests that maybe not all giving is good giving.
However, it would seem that the findings are more anecdotal than the headline implies. For one, the study only surveyed some 300 college students, prompting some criticism about the sample size, range, and other methodological choices. It's also unclear the effect of cause marketing on donations: In other words, did the overall gifts or the number donations drop, or something else?
Although these findings might amount to pop science, they are probably not surprising to many in the nonprofit sector, especially given recent high profile examples such as a breast cancer campaign tied to Kentucky Fried Chicken's "Buckets for the Cure," that some people found in bad taste. Clearly, there needs to be a stronger, and better-reported study on this subject in the future.
Still, despite its shortcomings, the study raises some interesting questions. For example: If it is true that cause marketing drives down donations, what's the lesson for social entrepreneurs? What do you think?–James David Morgan