05/17/2011 05:13 pm ET | Updated Jul 17, 2011

Cause Integration is a 'Sea Change of Good'

When I founded a company called Causecast in 2008 out of a shared warehouse space in Santa Monica, it operated from three fundamental beliefs:

  1. There was a dark hole where the technology should exist to make nonprofits more successful.
  2. The rising wave of cause marketing would require technology and expertise to truly connect the "cause" with the "marketing".
  3. Capitalism, if applied creatively, holds the potential to transform the complex socio-economic and environmental challenges facing the world today.

As Causecast evolved to understand the true needs of the market, it became apparent that what the market needed -- and what we'd been creating all along -- was a platform that would bridge the needs of nonprofits with the needs of businesses engaged in corporate social responsibility and cause marketing.

Causecast manifested this bridge as a "cause integration platform."

I believe the term "cause integration" transcends what we do. Much has been discussed and achieved in the realm of corporate social responsibility over the past 20 years and, at a high level, CSR is the essence of what cause integration is about.

CSR addresses the broad scope of sustainable business, triple bottom line and creating shared value. Cause integration is about how those programs and models for creating positive social actually get implemented. Cause is woven into corporations at deeper, more meaningful levels in order to solve, and in some cases prevent, certain social issues.

Although the term "causes" often refers to nonprofit organizations, we can use the term to describe an overall condition, or to address global concerns such as joblessness, education or the environment.

Companies that are cause-integrated don't need to be aligned with a specific nonprofit. They just need to demonstrate through their actions their commitment to giving back to their communities.

Historically this has been through the creation of foundations and other financial or in-kind donations. Recently, more forms of cause marketing have emerged, ranging from sponsorships to transaction-based promotions, joint ventures and employee volunteer programs.

As we move into the era of cause integration, simply donating to a nonprofit, no matter what the motivation to do so, is not enough. In our more transparent and socially connected world, consumers of brands and the employees who work for them are not only predisposed to work with companies that give back -- they expect it.

As this shift continues, there is likely to be a network effect. The more consumers expect, the more companies will give, which in turn results in higher profits, happier employees and more social issues addressed within their communities.

It's a win-win-win.

The main pillars of cause integration are:

  • Integration with marketing (commonly referred to as cause marketing)
  • Integration with the workforce (employee engagement programs around volunteering and giving)
  • Integration with business operations (CSR and Social Enterprises)

Each have varying degrees of complexity and value. They can be implemented in any order, depending upon a company's objectives and its culture.

Integration with marketing -- also known as cause marketing -- occurs through the mutually beneficial partnership of a company and a cause (typically a specific nonprofit organization). Programs can appear online or offline through all forms of marketing and communication. They can be in the context of a specific campaign or on a year-round basis.

Integration with the workforce is about engaging employees and inspiring them to take action. They can volunteer their time or donate to a cause. They can do this as individuals or as teams. Creating incentives for employees to collaborate, and rewarding them for doing good, lights up a sense of camaraderie, connects employees to a deeper sense of meaning for the company, and contributes to company loyalty.

Integration with business operations moves more deeply into the realm of corporate social responsibility, going beyond a transaction-based model where a percentage of sales or profit is donated. In cause-integrated business operations, every aspect of the organization -- not just marketing and human resources -- are aligned in their focus on sustainability and giving back. When cause is woven into business operations, it becomes part of the culture of a company. More often than not, it occurs at the creation of an enterprise and is driven by the philosophy and leadership of the founder and CEO.

Imagine the scale and impact when entire industries become focused on integrating cause at each of these levels.

Companies, especially those that are publicly held, have a mandate to make a profit. Cause integration reinvents profit-taking in ways that attract customers, engage employees and satisfy shareholders.

Nonprofits need access to the best talent, technology and financial resources to achieve the good they know is possible. Cause integration provides new and powerful ways to make their vision manifest by creating a symbiotic relationship with businesses through capitalism.

The impact of cause integration is a sea change of good.

The ways in which it can bring the world into alignment is unimaginable -- and an imperative for generations to come.