As reported by Marketing Daily, here’s a study from the University of Michigan Business School that suggests cause marketing dampens giving.

Marketing professor Aradhna Krishna conducted studies involving 300 college students to see whether consumers who bought products linked to a social cause would reduce subsequent donations to that cause. She found that charitable giving is lower if consumers buy a cause-related product — even if the consumer planned to buy it, anyway, regardless of its link to a cause.

“Consumers appear to realize that participating in cause marketing is inherently more selfish than direct charitable donation, reducing their subsequent happiness (versus a direct donation),” Krishna says. “Unfortunately, this doesn’t prevent them from substituting it for charitable giving, which reduces the overall charitable donation.”

I’m not sure a study based upon 300 college students would lead me to abandon cause marketing, but I have often wondered about this question:

Does buying something that generates a donation really count as a donation? Can we possibly look at this as an individual’s ‘trainer’ contribution — a promising step toward making a ‘real’ cash-out-my-pocket contribution?

Or should we regard these as faux contributions, lacking sufficient altruistic grounding to qualify as genuine donations?

I know I’ve heard Roger complain about all those “damn tee-shirt buyers” at a prominent nonprofit I dare not mention!

Yet I suppose at the end of the day, if the mission of the charity or cause is indeed further fueled by tee-shirt sales, and there’s no significant opportunity cost (i.e., the staff wasn’t distracted from its direct mail and online fundraising program … and didn’t waste a fortune trying to convert reluctant merchandise buyers), then the more fuel the better, wherever it comes from.

What do you think … Is any giving good giving?

Tom

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