Cause Marketing and CSR – What Retailers Need to Know

With customers increasingly calling for companies to have social impact, even small businesses can no longer afford to ignore the concepts of CSR and cause marketing. So what do those terms mean? And how do they relate to each other?


Breaking it Down

CSR, or corporate social responsibility, describes all the ways in which a company decides to enhance society and the environment. It’s a top-down visionary approach that comes from the leadership. CSR might mean donations to certain charitable organizations, employee volunteerism, support for political influence to create social change; CSR can mean many things, including cause marketing.

But cause marketing, though part of CSR, has a very specific and double purpose: to make a positive impact while increasing profits. You could say it’s a tactical approach to doing good with the goal of increasing sales, customer acquisition and loyalty.  The classic case is the 1983 campaign by American Express in which the company donated a penny to restore the Statue of Liberty every time someone used its charge card. Not only did the promotion raise over $1.7 million to spruce up the Green Lady; but Amex card use rose 27%. Some cause marketing campaigns focus on raising brand love to indirectly boost the bottom line. Lyft, for example, has raised its profile by offering free rides to first responders during the early pandemic and now to people trying to land a job. And Starbucks won a lot of praise for  #WhatsYourName. That campaign followed the emotional stories of transgender men and women, and the relief of hearing a Starbuck’s barista call out their new name in a safe space. The company partnered with the nonprofit Mermaids, which serves this community, and raised money for its helpline through sales of Mermaid Cookies.

The Disconnect

Despite the fact that cause marketing is a part of CSR, in practice the two often don’t go hand in hand. In fact it’s more like one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. Typically, they are funded and managed by different parts of the company. CSR programs come out of the corporate budget and are directed by the leadership; cause marketing campaigns are funded and run by the sales and marketing departments.  

A cause marketing campaign that aligns and works closely with the overall CSR vision, can really showcase and amplify all the ways the company is giving back to the public. When that doesn’t happen, it means a lot of missed opportunities.  

Sparo’s ecommerce platform is one way to roll the two into a simple all-in-one solution for retailers and other businesses. Sparo works with companies to donate a portion of each sale, and then empowers customers to select the charity they love every time they shop. The impact is promoted throughout the site and social media, which boosts sales, customer acquisition and brand love. 


That’s just one way to go. But for any retailer who wants to compete in the future, it’s time to start thinking about how to give back. Customers no longer just want to be sold to. They are hungry to align with a mission.