It’s no secret that cause marketing (when handled properly) can lead to great dividends, especially among millennial consumers. However, as more and more brands hop on board and embrace corporate social responsibility, it’s clear that just donating money to a cause isn’t enough to raise consumers’ eyebrows anymore.

Brands need to maintain control over their charitable efforts, not only to ensure that they actually help people, but to do so in a way that’s authentic and true to their values.

Disaster Relief

After Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico, many brands stepped up to provide support for the afflicted island when other organizations couldn’t.

Tesla jumped quickly to provide relief to Puerto Rico, working with the island’s governor Ricardo Rossello to produce batteries for relief efforts on the island. On October 24, the company revealed a massive solar array providing power to Hospital del Niño, a children’s care facility in San Juan, and promised “many solar+storage projects” to come.

Project Loon balloons provide wireless internet access to areas without proper infrastructure.
A Project Loon balloon waiting for launch

Google’s parent company Alphabet likewise made real efforts to support Puerto Rico’s damaged infrastructure, negotiating with the FCC to allow AT&T and Project Loon—balloon-based internet hotspots—to provide much-needed network access on the island.

“As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible,” the company’s blog post read.

Airbnb has used its home-stay platform to help disaster-displaced evacuees find refuge since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Users can suggest areas needing relief housing to the company and sign up their own homes to help refugees, as many did in the islands surrounding Puerto Rico. Indeed, close to 1,000 people have volunteered free accommodation in Northern California to help those left stranded by wildfires.

Airbnb’s cause support fundamentally changes the functionality of the app, not just helping vacationers but providing vital assistance during disasters.

Making It Part Of The Company Mission

There’s a fine line between authentic cause marketing and canny exploitation of social issues—a line that separates an effective campaign from a PR disaster. The brands that make the best efforts demonstrate long-term commitments to causes that align with specific, concrete brand values.

Photo of a ship trailing a rope tied to orange floaters, a wave crashing in the foreground

Microsoft and Facebook’s partnership on the Marea subsea cable exemplifies this sort of honest cause marketing. Begun in 2016 and completed in late September, the fiber-optic cable spans 4,000 miles between Virginia and Spain and helps future-proof global internet infrastructure.

Beyond just building the cable, Microsoft also promised to continue support for the project as global internet traffic increases and further improvements become necessary.

Sonos has also put its money where its mouth is, launching a multimillion-dollar grant program called Listen Better to combat censorship worldwide. The connected-speaker manufacturer announced $1.5 million in unrestricted grants to six non-profits over the next three years and will open up a free application process in early 2018.