National Edition

Pimp My Cause matches marketers with causes

Published: Monday, Aug. 18 2014 6:00 a.m. MDT

Fuse, Getty Images/Fuse

Paul Skinner wanted to be a matchmaker.

But he wasn't matching would-be Romeos and Juliets; he wanted to pair charities with marketing pros looking to volunteer their time to a good cause.

So why not create an online dating service? The platform, with the cheeky name Pimp My Cause, is a place where nonprofits and charities, along with professional marketers — strategists, graphic designers and PR pros — fill out applications and shop for just the right match.

The idea came when Skinner was doing pro bono work for two or three causes a year while he was working as a professional marketer on campaigns for big companies like L'Oreal in their Paris headquarters. He could only do so much on his own, and he wanted to create a "multiplier effect."

Since he started U.K.-based Pimp My Cause in 2010, over 1,000 nonprofits and charities from the U.S. and the U.K. have posted profiles to the site, along with hundreds of marketers from Endinburgh to Chicago. Skinner estimates that they have completed $5 million of pro bono work for causes, and since every dollar spent on marketing comes out to about $5 in benefit, that comes to $25 million worth of benefits to date.

"I wanted to go beyond my own slender resources, and it shows how you can raise the ceiling," says Skinner. "It's about scale."

Combining powers

Conservation group Blue Ventures works in places where the ocean is vital to local people — and takes a science-based approach to creating sustainable marine and aquaculture practices. Quite quickly, it realized that part of a holistic approach to conservation included human development as well, such as reproductive health.

Toward that end, Blue Ventures did a fabulous job of promoting sexual health awareness among the Vezo people it works with in southwest Madagascar. After launching an education campaign, it conducted a survey and found that 88 percent of people said that condoms protect against STIs. The only problem? Only 15 percent said they actually used them.

The gap in behavior was perplexing. "Basically, we had to figure out a way to make it cool," says founder Alasdair Harris.

Pimp My Cause matched Blue Ventures with brand marketing giant Ogilvy, whose team helped it come up with a strategy to make condom use "normal," by using Blue Ventures' existing campaign, called "Vezo Aho," meaning "I am Vezo," that used social identity to encourage Vezos to use sustainable fishing practices

The campaign would extend the association of community pride to condom use, and promote it through providing condoms at communal washing areas, and sponsoring radio PSA's. Bracelets — ala the ubiquitous yellow Lance Armstrong "Live Strong" arm bands, would promote solidarity and identity.

"They [Ogilvy] talked about how behavior is often socially located. It's not about encouraging the individual, it's about social norms. We were struggling in this area before we got their take on it," says Harris.

The NGO of the future

Ogilvy's expertise in social psychology and behavior change is valuable to Harris, who is no slouch himself — he’s a marine biologist and visiting post-doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, an advisor to the U.N. Environment Program, has won international awards for his conservation and sustainability work, and was commended in the “Enterprising Young Brits’ awards.

The combining of unique talents and knowledge is all part of the pay-off for Skinner, who sees Pimp My Cause as a collaboration generator, which he sees as a model for the "NGO of the future."