Today’s Challenge: Paying It Forward With Cause Marketing

2014 Visual Impressions - Ink to the People Making Strides Walk Team - Marshall Atkinson

Recently I attended the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer kickoff breakfast here in Milwaukee.  It was a wonderful event, full of amazing stories that inspired the crowd.  I sat at a table and introduced myself over coffee, and one of my new friends asked me why I was there.  “Simple” I said, “It’s important that as a company we give back to the community and it’s my job as a leader to help point the way.”  This is the third year in a row we have participated, and last year was a phenomenal success for our team as we had over forty walkers participate and raised $5,100 towards fighting breast cancer.  Events like these are great for company team-building spirit, as they are fun and fighting cancer is certainly a worthwhile cause.

However, does it have to stop there?  Do we only need to think about others once a year?  Can we “Do Good” on a continual basis?  Companies are increasingly moving towards cause marketing as a way to generate sales, while simultaneously helping others.  We can do more it seems.  Watch this great video about Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia that allows customers to “pay it forward” by buying a $1 slice of pizza for anyone that might need it. (Click Here)  A simple hand scrawled Post-it-Note serves as the coupon.  They help feed the homeless and less fortunate in their neighborhood.  Genius.

This happened by accident, but the owner was cognizant of the opportunity and didn’t squash it because it was “weird”, or didn’t fit in with what people might think are established norms for restaurants.  By looking at his bulletin board in the video, there are a lot of fantastic people in his community.  I wonder if they realized that before this program was a success?

Is this just limited to smaller companies though?  Maybe, but think again.  Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few years you’ve seen the success of Tom’s Shoes.  When a customer buys a pair of shoes, Tom’s gives a pair away to someone in need.  To date, they have provided over 35 million pairs of shoes to people that need them.  That’s a lot of happy people.

Did you know that Hanes has donated socks for the homeless for years?  Hanes works with the Salvation Army and provides the most requested, but least donated item.  They’ve been doing it since 2008, and they donate 250,000 pairs of clean new socks for the homeless each year.  Can you imagine what this must mean to people that have all the challenges of being homeless?  Think about that the next time you put on a pair of shoes.  What if you didn’t have a clean pair of socks today?  How would you feel?  Unless you are wearing flip flops, pretty stinky I’ll bet.

As many of you know, the theme of sustainability often winds its way onto my blogs sooner or later, so whoop here it is.  Patagonia, the celebrated adventure brand, has a great cause marketing campaign which is to not buy their merchandise.  That’s right, when something is worn out they would rather you try to repair it than go out and buy a brand new one.  In fact, they’ll help you repair the item.  In a consumer age where we constantly celebrate the new and trendy, it is amazingly refreshing to see a major brand step up and take a new tack on an old problem.  This spring they are packing up a special repair vehicle and going on tour repairing people’s favorite items.  I wish I had something worn out from them just so I could try it out.  That’s probably the point.

So what are we doing here in Milwaukee?  Our Ink to the People website has had tremendous success over the last few years helping others raise money nationally for their causes by using our platform to create and sell t-shirts to fund their endeavors.  Recently we have built two new platforms that offer ways to help.  Our “Design for Good” program allows us to pair great artists with causes to develop the creative images needed to fuel philanthropic success.  The “Affiliate Program” helps causes large and small find better positioning with an easy way to use t-shirts as their financial generator.  We’ve helped animal shelters, veterans groups, high schools, college students, religious groups, walk teams raising money for their cause, and many others along the way.  Let’s not also forget our biggest success, the Boston Strong campaign.  It’s people needing to raise money for something they believe in, and using a t-shirt to do it.  This is one of the reasons why I love my job.  We’re not just printing shirts for people, we’re helping out.

If you recall, I titled this piece “Today’s Challenge” and now I’d like to direct the article’s focus to you.  How can your company pay it forward or do something different to make a positive change?  Sure, we’re all interested in creating a nice bottom line that’s robust and deeply black, but can’t you do more?  Can you pay it forward with a pizza slice, create a one for one, donate your product to a worthwhile cause, or find a way to change how your product is used in the marketplace by having it last ‘forever”?  Can you build your entire business model like Ink to the People, so it’s about building effective change for good?  I hope the foundation of this article isn’t lost, and I don’t sound too preachy.  That’s not my intent.  To me, leadership is about more than just hitting your production or quarterly fiscal numbers.  It’s about trying to make a difference and improving when you can.  If we can combine that with entrepreneurial success, everything scales up wonderfully.

However, if you can’t build that business model today it’s ok.  Nobody is out to shame you. Maybe it doesn’t fit, or there are other challenges that are at play.  I’d like to encourage you at the very least to go out and support a local effort to help others.  Participate in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer for the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, Toys for Tots, March for Dimes, Autism Speaks, Make a Wish Foundation, Wounded Warriors, your cities symphony or arts group, your local Food Bank, or any number of great causes that surround you.  If you don’t have the money, volunteer your time or skills.  Just do something!

Finally, I’d like to encourage you to help me with my fundraising efforts in fighting for a cure for breast cancer by contributing to my fundraising efforts.  Yes, this is my on my knees money plea. 

Maybe you know someone that has been affected by this terrible disease.  If so, I’m walking for them.  If you have five minutes and can spare even ten bucks, (yes, we’ll take more!), I’d love for you to click here and go to my fundraising page for the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event here in Milwaukee.  This is a fantastic organization, and they truly help.  I know, as I was crying into my coffee cup during that breakfast listening to a few survivors talk about what it means to celebrate more birthdays.

C’mon you can do it!  Your wallet and peace of mind will thank you!

Gotta know more about Cause Marketing?  Read these:

10 Best Cause Marketing Promotions of 2014 – Selfish Giving –

Cause Marketing Matters to Consumers – Entrepreneur

Statistics Every Cause Marketer Should Know – 

Cause Marketing is Hot, But Does It Pay to Do Good? AdAge –

Cause Marketing Leaders of the Pack – Forbes –

What is Cause Related Marketing – Grant Space –


  • That is our goal at Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery as well. We live in a small town where 70% of the kids qualify for the free or reduced lunch program at school. That’s why we have made a commitment to donate all set up fees to schools and non profit organizations. We also help sponsor fund raising events through donating for hole sponsorships at several golf events. Donated a case of shirts to the Elks club for the Veterans Home. Back Packs for an after school program for needy children. Anything we can do to help.
    Try and do good by giving back. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have been trying for years to give away their fortunes and they are still number 1 and 3 riches people in the world. What you give away for the good of man will come back to you ten fold. Besides, it’s what makes it seem all worth while.

  • Skinny Armadillo


    As always, another great post. This is one of the things I’m most passionate about and we are constantly talking about how important it is to give back. We do a fundraiser every year where we design a fun christmas shirt and use the sales to purchase coats for kids at the local schools through the Lions Club and Rotary to make sure they get to the right kids. Our first year we adopted 2 Angels with the money we raised and this year (year 4) we had 34 coats to donate (photo below of our team) We hope to continue growing this number and expanding to additional months of charitable giving.

    Thanks for all you do and your words of wisdom and encouragement!

    Justin Corley The Skinny Armadillo 6623 Corporation Pkwy, Ste 180 Fort Worth, TX 76126 817-319-3367 817-546-1430


    • Justin:

      First thanks for helping out in your community…that’s fantastic! Second, thanks for your continued readership and taking the time to comment. You rock!! -M

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