Cause and philanthropy are said to be in a crisis state. We could not disagree more. What we are seeing is The Paradigm Shift in this sector. Canadians are more deeply committed than ever to cause, but the mechanisms through which they contribute continue to evolve. Causes and charities need to evolve along with the shifting consumer mindset if they are to meet their own needs, while brands have a unique ability to leverage this movement to deliver against their own business objectives.

In this article I am going to pull from some of the most important and critical motivators, trends and insights from our leading brand seminar, The Paradigm Shift™: The Ecosystem of Brand, Cause & Consumer. It is important to give cause leaders the inside scoop on what some of Canada’s most dominant brands are talking about.

The vast majority of us work within the cause space in Canada because we are passionate about the causes we represent. For many of us, contribution to cause is simply part of our DNA. As a result, we all know about the great work being done in the sector and all too often, this phenomenal work is being done on shoe string budgets, relying on volunteerism, goodwill and generosity to meet objectives. We have quantifiable data that points to the fact that charities are on average doing more with less. Every major research study and the hard data from Statistics Canada agree that individual giving is on the decline. So donations are down, yet when surveyed by Ipsos, Canadians say they are donating more. In fact, 52% stated that they participated in a cause based activity in the past 30 days, which is up 5% over the same period last year.

What gives!?

I go back to the opening paragraph because it is of great significance. We are experiencing The Paradigm Shift! As the mechanisms for donation and involvement with cause evolve, expand and change, charities and brands have a unique opportunity to differentiate, leverage and capitalize on The Paradigm Shift.

Insight One: Daily choices are a fundamental part of the giving lexicon

According to both the Nielsen Corporate Social Responsibility Study (2014) and the Ipsos “Marketing Causes to Canadians in Today’s Changing World” (2017) report, Canadians are acting with their wallets and are making active daily decisions which involve and impact cause. 87% of consumers are willing to buy one product over another, 91% are willing to switch brands, 57% will pay when a brand’s cause values are aligned with their own. These pieces of data tell a remarkable story. Brands that authentically support cause and integrate it within corporate DNA are seeing sales increases of 25% compared with those that don’t integrate cause. As cause based organizations, what it needed is a realization that Canadians are supporting daily through their purchases. As a result, brand partnerships are not just critical as revenue drivers for your cause, they are critical in delivering your targeted individual donor with opportunities to engage with the causes they care about through their daily choices. Brand partnerships are a necessary channel for communication and engagement with Canadians.

In practice, we can look at French’s Canada’s partnership with Food Banks Canada. When French’s Canada launched a new product, ketchup, the company partnered with Food Banks Canada to create a differentiated value proposition in a category that was virtually monopolized by a single brand. When an unanticipated viral post highlighting French’s use of Canadian tomatoes delivered a unique opportunity to communicate French’s value proposition, Food Banks Canada was core to the resulting strategy, shaping and amplifying the narrative to Canadian consumers. This partnership has helped French’s grow its ketchup market share from 3.2% in 2016 to 6.7% in 2018.

Insight Two: It is less about what and more about how

This insight always ruffles a few feathers. As leaders in one of Canada’s 85,000 registered charities, it is easy to get caught up in the great work your organizations are doing – we are all guilty of drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid. With the statement “it is not what, but how”, I am not seeking to dismiss or diminish the incredible work that you are doing. However the fact is, Canadians today care much less about the specifics of your impact and much more about the opportunities you provide them to be personally engaged in creating that impact. Before jumping out of your seats, noodle on these statistics. When asked the types of causes they care about, Canadians tell us their connection to cause is broad: 64% Poverty/Food, 63% Disease/Health, 61% Mental Health, 59% Environment and 56% Child Specific. With this breadth of interest in cause, how does your organization stand apart from the other 84,999? What this means for causes is that it is a lot less about what you do and a lot more about how you can engage Canadians and allow them to contribute individually in a way that feels both personally meaningful and connects them as part of a bigger community.

I am sure everyone reading recalls, and has in some way tried to recreate, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014. Started in the United States by a professional golfer who linked the then generic Ice Bucket Challenge to ALS by completing the challenge in honour of a family member fighting the disease sparked the viral sensation that would lead to $17 million raised in Canada alone from more than 260,000 donors. The important insight from this much discussed case is that the Ice Bucket Challenge allowed for personal participation, celebration and contribution. Through this initiative, which took on a life of its own, every Canadian was able to feel as though they were side by side with some of the most prominent celebrities and personally part of something much bigger than themselves.

Insight Three: Branded programs drive success

Brands have the unique ability to provide charities with a megaphone that would otherwise be incredibly costly to access and in many cases unattainable. Branded programs also have the distinct ability to take on a life of their own, becoming powerful vehicles for engagement. When delivering TACK10’s brand seminar we consistently point to the value that branded programs deliver for the companies that support cause through owned/named initiatives. The top four companies Canadians think of based on cause involvement and impact are respectively connected to four of the top five campaigns supported by Canadians. Obviously this is a powerful insight for brands, but it is equally a powerful insight for charities. Branded programs and campaigns deliver universality to a cause message and drives participation because it creates community and allows Canadians to feel like they are contributing in a meaningful way through small actions. These branded programs also offer sustainability to charities regardless of organizational changes or challenges.

We must look only to the CIBC Run For the Cure for an example of the last point. For over 20 years, CIBC has supported the breast cancer cause through this branded program. For the majority of those years this program was delivered through the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. 2017 brought the merger of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society and due to the strength of the branded Run for the Cure, this merger and change in the parent brand did not affect the engagement and fund development of Canada’s largest single day, volunteer led fundraising event.

The final bell

The Paradigm Shift is here and those charities who dismiss or reject the important impact it is having, have already started failing to meet their targets. It represents the single biggest opportunity for charities in decades however, if charities can comprehend the evolution. Success is and will continue to go to those who can differentiate, leverage and capitalize on The Paradigm Shift.

James Chalmers is the Group President and CEO at TACK10 Strategy. “Manifesto: TACK10 is an award-winning professional consultancy focused on building and delivering products, tools, services and training in the areas of Growth Strategy, Performance Management and Partnership Portfolio Optimization. We work across four business groups; Brand, Cause, Property and SME to deliver unparalleled measurable results against organizational objectives. As a for profit business, TACK10 believes it is our role to have a positive impact in the communities in which we operate. In 2017, TACK10 made the bold decision to become a Certified “B” Corporation. The ethos of this manifests through a commitment to: People, Purpose and Profit. 5% Pledge: Annually TACK10 invests 5% of the previous year’s total revenue in providing complimentary services to organizations who themselves are having a positive social, environmental and economic impact in the communities in which they operate.” They can be reached at