15 Cause Marketing Ideas to Supercharge Your Referral Marketing Efforts


It’s no secret that gaining new customers by way of referral is one of the most cost-effective ways to grow a business. Not only is it cheaper to acquire new customers this way than through advertising or other methods, but referred customers also tend to be a better fit for your style of doing business. However, beyond simply asking their customers for referrals or offering financial incentives to customers who give referrals, many local businesses are at a loss as to how to get more referrals.

One less utilized but potentially very effective method for getting people to talk about your business and refer new customers to you is cause marketing. Cause marketing is any type of marketing that involves the cooperative efforts of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for their mutual benefit. More and more local businesses are jumping on the cause marketing bandwagon, and for good reason. Consider the following:

  • 87% of consumers say they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand were associated with a good cause, according to Cone Cause Evolution.
  • 72% of Americans want their employers to do more to support a cause or social issue.
  • A whopping 93% of Americans say that it is important for their employers to give them opportunities to become involved in social issues
  • 95% of college students say they are less likely to ignore an ad that promotes a company’s partnership with a cause

In short, if done correctly cause marketing can be a great way to not only make your customers more loyal to your brand and get more referrals, but also give your employees opportunities for personal growth and development. This will reduce employee turnover and help you attract higher-quality employees, which will allow you to deliver higher-quality service (which of course leads to more referrals).

How to make cause marketing effective

In order for your cause marketing efforts to be the most effective, it’s important that you partner with the right non-profit organization. Here’s a few tips to help you decide what organization to partner with:

  • For local businesses, it’s probably best to partner with a non-profit that is active in supporting the local community, vs one that has an international focus.
  • Avoid politically charged causes or organizations, unless you are ok with alienating 50% of the population.
  • If possible, pick an organization related to your industry, your products, or your services. For example, a lawn care company might decide to partner with their local parks department.
  • Get input from your customers and employees about what organizations they would like to support or already do support.
  • Make it clear to the organization that you are interested in a partnership for your mutual benefit, not simply a one-way deal where they benefit and you don’t get anything in return.

Once you decide which organization to partner with, brainstorm ideas about how you can get both your employees and your customers involved. Simply donating money every moth to a non-profit will certainly benefit the non-profit, but probably won’t do a whole lot to boost your referrals or increase loyalty to your brand. However, with a little bit of creativity, you can really make your cause marketing efforts much more effective. Here are 15 ideas about how local businesses can use cause marketing to grow their business, along with suggestions about what types of businesses might benefit the most from each idea:

  1. Sponsor a Habitat for Humanity build (contractors, tradespeople, real estate professionals)

Get your employees and customers to sign up to volunteer together at a Habitat for Humanity build site for a day. Offer customers who bring a friend with them who is not a customer a coupon or discount on your products or services.


  1. Host or sponsor an event for Big Brothers Big Sisters (restaurants, event venues, movie theaters, entertainment venues)

Invite your local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters to hold an event at your facility, either for free or for a drastically reduced price. Hand out coupons to those who attend that can be redeemed at a later date.


  1. Volunteer at the Humane Society (veterinarian, dog groomer, kennel, pet store)

Offer your employees paid time off to volunteer at the local Humane Society, where they’ll interact with other volunteers who are not your customers. Offer discounts to people who volunteer as an incentive to become your customers (this strategy could be used with any organization that uses volunteers).


  1. Sponsor a water stop in a running race (fitness clubs, personal trainers, fitness clothing retailers, health food store, outdoor recreation businesses).

Get your employees to volunteer to hand out water to people running the race. Offer discounts to your customers who register for the race and give them stacks of coupons to hand out to other participants.


  1. Support your local Meals on Wheels chapter (restaurants, catering companies, any business with a fleet of vehicles, car dealers, auto repair shops, home health care businesses, doctors, medical or long term care insurance providers).

Incentivize your employees to volunteer to deliver meals, and offer discounts to customers who deliver meals. Give your employees who volunteer branded magnets to put on their personal vehicles while they are delivering meals.


  1. Collect donations for Goodwill (retail shops with high volumes of foot traffic)

Put a collection box for your local Goodwill Store in your location, and offer people who come in to drop off a donation a discount or coupon.


  1. Help support your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (moving companies, realtors, water and damage restoration contractors, remodeling contractors, home builders)

Help facilitate donations of used furniture and building supplies to your local ReStore, and encourage your employees to volunteer there. Give the ReStore coupons or flyers promoting your services to hand out to people who shop there.


  1. Support a local theater, symphony orchestra, or performing arts venue (CPAs, financial planners, insurance agents, realtors).

Volunteer and encourage your employees to volunteer at the venue in question. Give your best clients tickets to events at the venue as a thank-you.

  1. Support a local medical clinic or health wagon (medical professionals, insurance agents, attorneys, counselors)

Volunteer your time or professional expertise. Match donations made by your clients to the organization in question. Ask the organization to give you free advertising space in their newsletter.


  1. Support your local zoo (veterinarian, pet store, kennel, entertainment venues)

Offer discounts to people who support the zoo via donations or volunteering time. Put a “donate” button on your website that links to the zoo’s website. Encourage your employees and customers to volunteer at the zoo.


  1. Partner with a museum (financial services professionals, attorneys, B2B service companies)

Sponsor events at the museum or volunteer at the museum. Purchase tickets to give to your customers as a thank-you.


  1. Support your local volunteer fire department (restaurants, entertainment venues, golf courses, event venues)

Offer to donate a certain percentage of proceeds from an event at your business to the fire department. Get the fire department to help promote the event to their mailing list.


  1. Volunteer or support your local library (hobby shops, coffee shops, movie theaters, entertainment venues, pediatricians, dentists, health clubs)

Collect books to donate to the library, or offer to sponsor educational events at the library. Sponsor the summer reading program in exchange for the opportunity to advertise on materials promoting the program.


  1. Participate in a clean-up day at a local park (lawn care companies, outdoor recreation retailers, landscaping contractors).

Get your customers and employees to volunteer together to clean up a local park. Offer coupons to anyone who participates in the event or who just happens to come by the park that day.


  1. Be a booster for a local high school sports team or marching band (any business that caters to families with school-age children).

Help financially support a local high school sports team or music program, and show up to volunteer at their events. Be careful with this one, though—high school sports rivalries can get pretty intense, and you may lose some customers who are fans of a rival team.


Hopefully, something on the list above gave you an idea about how you can use cause marketing to grow your business. Perhaps you have already used one of these ideas or something similar and have benefited as a result. If so, please share your experience by leaving a comment below so other readers can be inspired by your example.


About Kevin Jordan

Kevin JordanKevin Jordan is a small business marketing consultant and member of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. He’s also co-author of the award-winning book The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Local Lead Generation and the host of the top-rated video podcast The Small Business Marketing Minute Show. You can connect with Kevin on Twitter @RMCVirginia.

Earning Referrals Takes More Than Luck

With the madness of the annual NCAA tournament upon us and St. Patrick’s Day behind us, there’s a lot of talk about luck. The luck of the Irish or that team was lucky to pull off the upset. Some of you may be thinking you could use some of that luck in your business for turning your current customer base into a steady stream of referrals.

The bad news is that whether or not you believe in it, luck it is hard to create. You also can’t just go to a store and buy a bottle of luck or a program to make yourself and your business lucky.

The good news is that you don’t need luck to get more referrals, what you need is just a bit of hard work and focus on your customers.

Referrals are the culmination of your customer’s experience with your business. They are the reward for completing the customer journey, and doing it in a way that surprises and impresses them to the point that they recommend that experience to their family and friends.

But here’s what is most important about referrals: people want to refer you. They want to be wowed by your company, and they can’t wait to tell everyone about it. It is your job to take advantage of this by meeting and exceeding their expectations.

Here are some ways you can increase referrals for your business:

1) Take Time to Educate Potential Customers

In order to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations, you must first make sure they are reasonable. Take the time to educate your customers about your product or service, and don’t rush them into buying it. If your customer knows exactly what they are buying, their expectations of what you will deliver are realistic.

2) Surprise Your Customers and Show Gratitude

Now that your customers have a clear expectation of your product or service, you can now take an opportunity to surprise them. Give them something extra, whether it be a promotion or a gift, which they aren’t expecting. It can be something as simple as a short personal letter to your customers or, as Sara describes here, you can send them a loaded new customer kit.

It is also important to make sure your customers know you appreciate their patronage. Go out of your way to thank your customers, and try to add as much of a personal touch as possible. The “Thank you!” at the end of an invoice is expected, but a Holiday card from you or your whole team still carries a lot of weight.

3) Resolve Issues and Welcome Feedback

In college, I spent a fair amount of time waiting tables, as I’m sure many of us have. One of the main lessons I will take away from that time is that people are willing to recognize that things don’t always go as planned. Whenever there was an issue with food or the environment or the wait times, I worked hard to resolve those issues as quickly as possible. Customers in those situations often tipped better than most, because they recognized and rewarded those efforts.

To bring that same principle to business, work with your customers to resolve any issues that may arise during the customer journey, and ask for feedback on how to improve. If you take their feedback seriously, they are more likely to refer your business. Just because something goes wrong doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost their referral.

4) Ask for a Referral

Too few businesses ask for referrals at the end of their customer journey. I don’t know if businesses feel like they are asking too much, or if asking somehow cheapens the referral. But because we know people want to refer your business, you should give them an opportunity to do so. Digital media has made this so much easier because your customers no longer need to be in the same room as their friends and family to refer you.

You’ll want to make this as easy as possible, or even give them an added benefit. Offer a gift or discount for a positive Yelp review or Facebook post, or use a tool like Get Five Stars to increase your reviews.

Just remember: you have to be constantly working to earn referrals. Luck has nothing to do with it.

Alex-Boyer-Photo-150x150-e1420769709443Alex Boyer is a Community Manager and Content Ninja for Duct Tape Marketing. You can connect with him on Twitter @AlexBoyerKC

Is Networking a Waste of Time?

Marketing podcast with Derek Coburn The simple answer to the question posed in the title of this post is - maybe. Networking is actually one of the most powerful strategic activities you can engage in if you do it right.…

Read More