Cause Marketing for Educators, Eduprenuers & Students

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Here’s the deal – we’re all in the cause marketing business now. Let me use a few examples to explain.
You may not think that education and marketing go hand in hand, but if you have ever tried to get 9th graders invested in Algebra, you know how you market and sell the need for information is super important.
As a math teacher in an urban Los Angeles school, Megan Mead understood that helping her students understand the value and importance in learning Algebra wasn’t optional and sure wasn’t easy. It wasn’t just about helping them graduate, it was a social justice issue to her. Mastering Algebra meant a ticket to a new world with new opportunities. It meant a better ability to problem solve and think critically. An opportunity to hone skills that would be essential for the jobs of the future.
She knew many students did not understand the importance of Algebra – so rather than assuming, she created daily reminders of its importance in their life. Mastering Algebra meant potential for college credit while in high school for some students, far more opportunities for entrance to leading colleges and universities and new job pathways. Creating global connections, being authentic and honest and listening to her students was Megan’s own cause marketing campaign.
When Tom Vander Ark was a district superintendent he quickly learned district admins are in the marketing business too – not just for enrollment in competitive markets, but for continued community investment in technology and facilities. In his last year in the role, the district proposed a bond for innovative new small high schools and lost because they didn’t make the case for a new path forward.
If you’re a foundation or nonprofit trying to advance a solution set–personalized learning, reading by 3rd grade, better career preparation–you’re in the cause marketing business.
Whether a teacher, school leader, or service provider, you’re in the cause marketing business– you need to sell a group of people 1) on a path forward, 2) that you’re the right partner for the journey, and 3) that the path is worth the effort.

The Basics

Cause marketing, in the broadest sense, is a marketing effort for social or charitable cause. It also refers to corporate efforts to advance a worthy cause and their brand at the same time. No matter who you are and who you are marketing to, here are three fundamentals of cause marketing to keep in mind:

  1. Make the case–don’t assume it’s obvious. This is your chance to set the tone and describe what the cause is. With so many sources and opinions it’s important to make it clear what your cause is and why it’s relevant and important.
  2. Demonstrate care & competence. At all times your marketing efforts should display empathy of race, class, circumstance and path.
  3. What’s in it for me–current and future. You need to demonstrate and articulate why this cause should matter to your target audience. Who will benefit, how will this create impact and how will people know it’s a success?

Cause Marketing for Educators

Most educators run a cause marketing campaign on a daily basis in their classrooms, but may not have used that title to describe what they were doing. As teachers develop lesson plans and modules, helping students understand the importance and real world connections of content is important to relevance and successful mastery of content for students. Here are three ways educators can (and probably already are) incorporate cause marketing in their classrooms:

  1. Why a unit is important–now and later. All of the focus on college and career readiness is great, but school should also be relevant and important for young people now. Understanding how the unit will provide needed knowledge for the next lesson or class in a particular subject is also important. Helping students connect their current knowledge to something currently happening in internet culture or politics will increase relevance and understanding.
  2. Demonstrate care, listen and engage. Educators can successfully incorporate cause marketing by understanding what their students are interested in. By asking questions, seeking feedback and providing time for discussion, students will feel like their voices are heard and teachers will be able to connect lessons to interests.
  3. Illustrate the rewards of quality work. By showing anchor papers and portfolios, educators can help students enjoy and appreciate the journey. Provide opportunities for students to publish and present their work in the larger community through blogs and local newspapers. For more tips on this topic see our “It’s a Project Based World” Campaign.

Cause Marketing for Edupreneurs

Anyone that has started or scaled a business knows successful marketing can be a game changer. However, in the education business it’s not enough to just market well–you have to help your target audience understand your value proposition, trust you as a partner and believe in your cause. As eduprenuers looking to make an impact, here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Get clear about what problem you solve. As a company you’ll have to make sure, both in words and action, that you demonstrate problem empathy for educators. With a flood of talented people wanting to work in education and build solutions for educators, it’s more important than ever to get clear in your cause and learn how to market that efficiently. It is also crucial to demonstrate foresight–help your audience see that you know the path they are on and will walk that journey with them.
  2. Demonstrate appreciation of user experience. Your marketing efforts should make the partnership case–why is your product/service the best choice? Why are you a trustworthy partner?
  3. Show how you’re getting better. Make the case that your products/services are good and getting better. If you’re offering a subscription (software or retained services) make the case that you’re the partner for today and even better tomorrow (with versions 2 and 3).

Cause Marketing for Students

Two of the most important job skills for young people beyond basic communication skills are marketing and project management–getting work and delivering value. Part of applying to college and jobs is being able to market yourself well. Here are three ways cause marketing can support a student’s ability to succeed:

  1. Develop your voice. At school, through community activities and sports, students can develop and present persuasive arguments for causes they believe in. Socratic seminars, leadership opportunities, project-based learning, etc., all present wonderful opportunities to develop student voice.
  2. Learn to collaborate. Now more than ever, organizations are partnering together on strategic alliances around a cause. This happens at a macro and micro level on a daily basis. Whether it’s participating in an international campaign, or partnering on a project at work, students will need to have the ability to collaborate and appreciate the need for trustworthiness.
  3. Gain real world exposure. Through internships, job shadowing experiences and project-based learning, students should gain skills to help them navigate a competitive project-based world.

Team Getting Smart has recently supported and facilitated several cause marketing efforts for partners. A few examples include:

For more information on how we can help you make the case, contact [email protected].
For more check out:

This post originally ran on December 6, 2015.

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

Caroline Vander Ark

Caroline is President of Getting Smart.

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