Finger-Lickin Failure: Susan G. Komen’s Stance on “Buckets For The Cure” at Cause Marketing Forum

This post is a bit of a departure for me. I generally give examples of how my non-profits succeed and fail in our various efforts (like my guest posts on our #100X100 campaign for Chronicle of Philanthropy and Community Organizer 2.0 this week) that I hope you’ll be able to apply to your own work in the non-profit sphere.

I also blog about the varied conferences I attend to report the most useful things I learned while there and how I’m using that new knowledge in my own organizations (like my posts on what I learned from Chris Brogan and Steve Farber at SOBCon) hoping it will inspire you to extrapolate something you can use to enhance yours.

This post, on the other hand is an out and out criticism of a large national non-profit’s response to a cause marketing relationship that was considered a debacle by many. I’m speaking about the Susan G. Komen/KFC Buckets For The Cure campaign in which 50 cents from every bucket was donated to Susan G. Komen with the intention of making the single largest donation to a breast cancer organization in history.

If you aren’t aware of what the controversy is about read these great posts by Joe Waters, Nancy Schwartz and Scott Henderson before you go on. The sheer number of comments on all of these posts is a hint at how many people agree this was not a sound decision on the part of Komen. In my comments on posts about this mess I note my displeasure that an organization that seeks to promote women’s health would partner with a fast food restaurant whose fatty foods contribute to obesity, responsible for 20% of cancer-related death in women according to

This past week I attended Cause Marketing Forum. One of the panel discussions entitled “Where’s the Nonprofit” included Karen White, Director of Corporate Relations for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Now, I’m a peace and love kind of girl and that’s part of why this post is such a departure for me. I like to learn from other people’s mistakes but I try not to judge them. We all make them. Why not use them to do better next time?

The reason I’m doing so here stems from the fact that this took place at a conference. This wasn’t a public forum. This was a gathering of peers who were specifically looking to assess stories of both failure and success for insight that would be relevant to their own organizations. That’s what Komen should have delivered – an opportunity for all of us to learn what not to do when considering a cause marketing partnership.

Instead what we got was a shamefully shameless defense of their decision.  When Karen White began her part of the panel she acknowledged the elephant in the room by uncomfortably joking that she should have come with buckets of chicken for all of us. I think I speak for the entire audience when I say I hoped that was a segue into her thoughts on this partnership. No such luck. She went on to continue her talk which I will not describe as it was largely irrelevant to the matter at hand.

When the panel was over and the questions from the audience were displayed the only one that appeared was an inquiry of her thoughts on KFC. Although she clearly didn’t want to talk about it everyone else there wanted to hear about it. Instead of using this opportunity to talk about how they were learning from it to change the ways they assess future potential cause marketing relationships she spun defense after defense.

Most amusing was the first – she wanted to point out that the 50 cents was earned when the franchisee bought the bucket, not when the customer ordered it. She implied that a customer could have easily bought a bucket full of mashed potatoes. Right….and we were all born yesterday. She went on to describe how the pros and cons of this partnership were weighed at every level, down to Board Members and the Founder of Komen.

She explained that 20% of KFC’s 5000+ locations were in areas where they had no affiliates or presence and the ability to reach these places was the primary factor in their decision. She shared that the Buckets For The Cure website didn’t generate many additional donations but that with 2 1/2 million views it spread significant education and awareness. She closed by saying they’re proud of the partnership with KFC and that she “stands behind it any day of the week.”

The website whose views she is so proud of includes this among its “Tips For A Healthy You” :

“Susan G. Komen for the Cure recommends that you…..make healthy lifestyle choices and maintain a healthy weight”

They stand behind the hypocrisy of educating people to make healthy choices via a brand (I mean no disrespect to KFC here, this is true of all fast-food restaurants) that is antithetic to making healthy choices?

I leave you to your own opinion of how this situation was handled but I was wildly disappointed she didn’t just fess up to having made a mistake. The rest of us need examples of veterans in the field who lead by learning from their failures and righting the course. As insiders we do not need to be cause-washed. In both a personal and professional capacity I have lost my respect for an organization that now seems more focused on money than mission.


Small, Young Non-Profit? You – Yes, YOU, Can Run A Cause Marketing Campaign!

As I type this, my organization Big Love Little Hearts is about a week shy of our 10 month anniversary. I’m beginning with this fact because I hear a lot of young non-profits lament that they’re too small, too green, too you name it to embark on a Cause Marketing Campaign. I don’t know if this is because there’s not a clear understanding of what cause marketing really is, or if it’s because most non-profits assume that the only suitable partners for a CM campaign are giants like American Airlines or Pepsi. I’m here to tell you that any organization can run a cause marketing campaign, no matter how small or young you are!

If you don’t feel like you’re familiar with what constitutes cause marketing and what doesn’t, head over to Joe Waters’ excellent blog, Selfish Giving, my favorite (and hands-down best) resource on the topic out there and educate yourself.

Back yet? Okay…now that we’re all on the same page regarding what exactly cause marketing is I want to share how we successfully implemented a CM program at Big Love Little Hearts this past February when were just under 8 months old.

Awareness Week for Congenital Heart Defects is February 7-14, with our official Awareness Day falling on Valentine’s Day. My cause community is very lucky that this falls during a huge consumer holiday. Like any good student of marketing (I got my non-profit education at Kellogg) I sought to take advantage of this. We came up with a program called Eat Your Heart Out, where participating restaurants gave us $1 from every check on Valentine’s Day or some other night during the week of February 7-14. When they presented the check to the customer they included an Awareness Card that talked about heart defects, CHD Awareness Week and Big Love Little Hearts.

We didn’t begin recruiting potential partners until January yet very easily managed to forge relationships with restaurants from two major groups in Chicago: Francesca’s and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Of the many restaurants we recruited the most fruitful was HUB51 because they were open on Valentine’s Day from brunch through dinner. This netted us the most donations and biggest awareness impact but all of our participants were a successful partnership. It cost us nothing to print up the awareness cards, we created no fancy presentation for potential restaurant partners, we raised a fair amount of money and most importantly gained exposure among an audience we otherwise wouldn’t have.

Eat Your Heart Out was so successful for us that we’re not only expanding the scope of it in Chicago (our home base), we’re also rolling it out in at least 5 more cities next year (New York, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans and Atlanta). We plan to start recruiting partners much earlier this time around (in October of this year when restaurants are planning their 2011 first quarter budgets) – with this increased time to plan and lessons learned, we expect to raise several thousand more dollars than we did this year and to reach several thousand more people.

This is an example that can easily be adapted for your cause during your awareness week or any other special day of your choosing. It can be done on a small or large scale and requires virtually no budget or staff time. It is cause marketing at its simplest and promotes awareness in ways that many cause marketing campaigns don’t. Feel free to steal the idea outright or use it as a jumping board to brainstorm a simple and effective campaign for your own non-profit. Whatever you do, just bring your brain around to the idea that cause marketing is for you, no matter how small or young your organization is!