Is Cause-Shopping Right for Your Organization?

Guest post by Wayne Liu from

I was shopping at Costco the other day. I noticed they put up a ton of paper lanterns near the checkout counters. If you ever shopped at Costco before, you’ll know what those lanterns mean. Costco is running a fund raising event again for a charity. When I was checking out, the cashier politely asked me if I wanted to donate a dollar to the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The charity they support through the fundraising event seems to change from time to time. Sometimes it’s the Children’s Hospital, sometimes it’s the breast cancer research, and sometimes it’s the Ronald MacDonald House. But no matter what they are, they are usually big, and famous local or national organizations, the ones at the top of the food chain, that always receive a lot of attentions and funding. If you’re a fundraiser or work at a medium or small nonprofit, have you ever wished that your organization might someday be benefitted through an event like this? Those lanterns indicated that a lot of people did actually donate to the Children’s Hospital, and Costco was able to raise a lot of money, even though it’s only one dollar per person.

Well actually, there is one fund raising model you can try, and in many ways, it works even better than at the checkout.  This fundraising model is called cause-shopping, where consumers make their online shopping through a shopping portal that’s affiliated with a nonprofit, and a percentage of the consumer’s purchase is donated to the nonprofit. This model is not new. It has been around at least since early 2000. Some nonprofits have tried this model without much success, but it does work, if done right.

Unlike paying an extra dollar at the checkout, with this model, consumers typically don’t have to pay extra to donate, and they can shop at a wide array of online merchants, and donate to the nonprofits they care about the most. But to make it work effectively for your nonprofit, there are some factors you need to consider:

1.  Do you want to implement the cause-shopping fundraising yourself, or use a third-party service? It shouldn’t take a nonprofit a lot of efforts to go either way, and both approaches can benefit the nonprofit. But a third-party service can usually provide a lot more merchants for the consumers, and usually provides added features, such as product search, deals/coupons to help the consumers save money.

2.  How convenient is it for your supporters to use the service to shop and donate to you? If your supporters have to go through too many steps to get to the merchant’s site to shop, most of them will simply turn away, and not use the service.

3.  Do you have the plan to promote this service to your supporters? Can you implement the plan? It’s not difficult to promote it among your supporters, but it takes some careful planning and persistent efforts. Cause-shopping is a new way to donate to nonprofits, most people are unaware of it, and the truth is, most of us will not easily change our habits, and try something new when we hear it the first time. The appeal has to be repeated time and time again, before it gradually sinks in to the minds of your supporters. It will require you to promote the service on all your communication platforms, websites, emails, direct mails, blogs, social network pages and etc., whenever you communicate with your supporters.

4.  Do you take a long-term approach on the cause-shopping model? Unlike the event-based fundraising, in which you have to dash to the finish line, the cause-shopping fundraising is more like a brisk walk. It will take longer to get to the finish line, and you can do it more leisurely, at your own pace. You are unlikely to see significant donation through cause-shopping in the first few months, but if you persistently repeat the appeal over and over again to remind your supporters on all your communication platforms, your supporters will eventually response to your appeal. It will usually take 6 to 9 months to reach the tipping point, when you have raised enough awareness among your supporters to start receiving significant donations from cause-shopping. 

Cause-shopping based fundraising won’t replace individual fundraising asks or events as a major driver of your organization’s revenue,  but it can provide a nice base of regularly recurring income for any non-profit, no matter how large or small.

Wayne Liu is the founder of Causemunity, a leading cause-shopping website.  If you’re interested in raising money through cause shopping, be sure to check out Causemunity.


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