Cause Marketing & Sponsorship in 2023
- December 6, 2023
- SponsorPulse Staff
In 2022, this global generosity movement saw people worldwide donate time, money, items, or their voice to a cause near and dear to their hearts. Last year alone, over $50MM was donated online in Canada in just 24 hours.
As the results for 2023 are tallied, it is impossible to disregard the growing need we are seeing across the Canadian landscape. Nonprofit and charitable organizations across the nation are working tirelessly to meet the increased demands, while being subject to tightening budgets, a decrease in volunteers, and growing burnout among their employees.
While the complexity of these issues cannot be understated, the power of collective generosity in action demonstrated through year-end giving and events, such as Giving Tuesday, provide a sense of hope. It also raises the question of where we might be if the giving season came more than once a year?
The evolution of giving in Canada
SponsorPulse tracks more than 40 cause territories (such as Mental health research and support), more than 60 charities (such as Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), and more than two dozen purpose-driven programs (such as Bell Let’s Talk) with thousands of consumers to understand how they behave, feel, and react to brands getting involved in their communities. The insights from this ongoing study allow us to identify shifts in the Canadian marketplace.
Over the past five years of measuring Canadian behaviours and attitudes toward the causal space, we’ve measured a decrease of -4% in the number of Canadians donating money to charities annually, paired with a modest increase of +3% in those who are volunteering their time.
Simultaneously, we’ve seen the % of Canadians who engage with at least 1 or more charities decrease steadily by -8%, while the average number of charities a Canadian engages with has decreased from 1.7 to 1.3.
As the need for charitable contribution grows, amidst economic headwinds, it’s concerning to see the decline in donations and engagement. This highlights a critical need for brands to get more involved in the space.
Cause Marketing has a role to play
Dan Pollatta, one of the leading voices on philanthropy, highlights the deeply ingrained double standards that exist when it comes to nonprofit spending in his widely popularized Ted Talk, that has since been turned into a book and documentary, UnCharitable. Of the double standards that exist, one of the most glaring is marketing and advertising dollars.
Nonprofits can be harshly discriminated against and are often subject to intense media scrutiny for investing in advertising dollars, meanwhile for-profit marketing is not only expected, but celebrated.
While causes may not be able to compete with brands across all marketing metrics, they offer a host of other benefits to their partners. With 79% of consumers believing that brands have the resources to make a difference in the causes that matter to them, there is a unique partnership opportunity between causes and brands.
Leveraging our fulsome consumer dataset on cause territories, charities, and purpose-driven programs, let’s dive into why we believe cause marketing has tremendous room for growth.
Food security tops the list of most relevant causes in Canada
SponsorPulse actively measures overall engagement across more than forty unique cause territories to determine which are most relevant to Canadians today, and those that are gaining momentum. Engagement includes people who donate money, volunteer time, recommend it to others, or who have engaged across different forms of media in the past year.
Topping the list are food security causes, with 45% having engaged over the past year - a whopping +16% versus the average engagement result across all cause territories. Food Banks Canada’s HungerCount report highlighted that there were almost 2 million visits to food banks across Canada in March. This represents a 78.5 percent increase compared to March 2019, which is the highest year-over-year increase in usage ever reported.
Organizations like Purolator have been longtime supporters of organizations working to alleviate food insecurity, having built partnerships to support communities from coast to coast in increasing their access to food. Purolator’s Tackle Hunger program, now celebrating its twentieth year, has delivered more than 20 million pounds of food to communities and people in need. After a sustainable commitment to food security and nonprofit partners like Food Banks Canada, they’ve managed to build the program to a point where 1 in 5 Canadians engage with it annually.
Rounding out the top five cause territories are Cancer Research and Support (42%), Children’s Hospitals or other services for children with illnesses (40%), Animal Welfare (36%), and Local Hospital or Hospital Foundation (36%).
Gen Z highlights important differences on causes that matter to them
While these results provide an important view of the general population’s engagement across causes, the most engaged with territories can vary significantly across key segments of the population. For example, among 13-18 year olds, the average engagement climbs, and anti-bullying takes on the second spot at parity with food banks and food security causes. Organizations like Telus have been publicly leading the pledge to #EndBullying, partnering with Kids Help Phone and developing resources to support youth in Canada.
The 19 to 24 year old demographic represents the most engaged group with an average engagement of 39%, +10% greater than the general population. Brands getting active in the cause marketing space should consider ways to engage and mobilizie this active subset of Gen Z.
Opportunity at the intersection of sport and cause
While sport properties generally have a significant advantage in their ability to deliver mass engagement through broadcast, digital, and social content, it’s important to note that today’s average sport fan is 1.3x more likely to engage with cause movements versus the average population.
Property-owned programs like the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer, or branded programs like RBCs Training Ground, in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Foundation, highlight ways in which the market is adjusting to connect with fans through the causes that matter most to them. The Canadian Football League also recently announced a partnership with World Vision as its Official Charity Partner, an innovative partnership that will look to mobilize CFL fans to contribute to World Vision.
Top charities and programs highlight opportunities for brands to integrate
Across all Canadians, the Canadian Cancer Society rises to the top spot with 42% engaged. Perhaps surprisingly (or not), a brand-owned program, Bell Let’s Talk, claims second spot, alongside Canadian Red Cross, Heart & Stroke Foundation, and the Salvation Army - each with 37% engagement.
Looking at those who are gaining momentum with Canadians, Bell Let’s Talk and the Canadian Cancer Society continue to rank in the top five, while SPCA, SickKids and Make-A-Wish Foundation climb into the picture.
Similarly to cause territories, charities and programs see changes across different demographics. Among the 13-18 year old demographic, we continue to see that the causes with the greatest growing interest include Bell Let’s Talk, Black Lives Matter, Terry Fox Foundation, Kids Help Phone, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
These insights shine a light on the opportunities that exist for charities and brands alike to engage new partners and customers through consistent, accessible cause marketing activations.
The power of cause marketing on brands
Whether it's growing a moustache, buying fast food, getting social for mental health, or moving for a cure, there’s a growing number of ways in which Canadians can engage with causes and the brands supporting them. Impressively, among a subset of brand-affiliated cause marketing programs, they each managed to engage more than 1 in 5 Canadians over the past year. These purpose-driven partnerships provide a blueprint for other charities and brands to get involved:
One of the top performing cause marketing initiatives in the country is Tim Hortons Camp Day. The event first started in 1987 and has grown into an annual fundraiser to support underserved youth reach their full potential through community programming.
In a recent SponsorPulse Impact Report, Tim Hortons Camp Day proved to deliver 82% awareness of the program, with almost half (44%) of those aware engaging with the program over the past year. Most importantly though, the brand is benefiting from increased favourability among 65% of those aware, and increased purchase consideration among 52% of those aware of the program. These results put the Tim Hortons Camp Day in the top 20% of all sponsorships from a reach and impact perspective.
So, why does it work? The program is deeply rooted in the communities that Tim Hortons operates in and focuses on the development of youth, a powerful cause. Beyond its area of focus, Camp Day offers consumers of all ages the opportunity to become aware, participate, and contribute with an action as simple as buying a coffee or a cookie.
What’s next for cause marketing?
As the end of the year fast approaches and 2024 budgets and strategies are being reviewed, we encourage readers to take a moment to ponder the question ‘Where might we be if the giving season came more than once a year?
The business case for investing in cause marketing in a sustainable and authentic way has been demonstrated time and time again. There is significant opportunity to make an impact while delivering ROI.
As Canadians continue to navigate the growing number of issues impacting them at home and across the world, brands have the opportunity to invest in, and partner with, causes whose daily mission is focused on creating thriving Canadian communities.
No matter the line of business you’re in, consumers continue to reiterate the important role brands have to play in supporting causes, further reinforced by the impact that cause marketing has on consumer purchase intent and favourability.
While every day can’t be Giving Tuesday, there is a clear business case for brands to invest in cause marketing on an ongoing basis. Whether you’re a cause looking to recruit new partners, or a brand looking to identify causes resonating with your audience - SponsorPulse has the data you need to make informed sponsorship decisions leading to strong activations and meaningful community impact.
Want to dive into the data yourself? Upgrade your account to Professional for access to all this data and more for $99/month.