We are a nonprofit, not an advertising platform for Big Business

How can a $500 donation to a nonprofit be wrong?

Toyota of Braintree began a recent campaign to donate $500 to a nonprofit, but there was  a catch.  Only ONE nonprofit that generates the most votes on social media will be awarded $500.  Nothing is award to the other 35 nonprofits.

toyotaSeems like a generous offer.  Right?  Well, let’s look closer.

17760235_10212691207293892_7684672409320291669_nIn the “Cause Marketing”  course at New England College of Business  students learn how business aligns with nonprofits to create a symbiotic relationship.   For example, Freedom Communications gives the Equine Rescue Network a $25 donation for every ERN follower that upgrades their phone.

Another example is JEEP’s S.A.F.E. Return fund that provides aid to those who service this county, veterans and their families.  Jeep has given over $1 million in donations and vehicles to the USO.  An in exchange, Jeep promotes their commitment through media like the Super Bowl which makes people more likely to purchase a Jeep.

….And then there is the Toyota campaign.

In exchange for nothing, 35 nonprofits send their followers over to click on the Toyota of Braintree page to “VOTE” for their nonprofit.   What these voters don’t realize is that they are now being tracked by a “Facebook Pixel” which will now to serve them Toyota Ads in the future.  Some marketers call this “Retargetting” others “Remarketing” in this case, I personally call it smarmy.


In exchange for NOTHING , Toyota can promote themselves to 35 out of the 36 nonprofit follower base with self-promoting sales ads AND in exchange for $500, one lucky winner will receive a $500 charitable donation from Toyota (which BTW is 100% tax write-off for the dealership).

budgetObviously someone at this small Toyota dealership did the math and figured out that they could get more impressions and reach new audiences by taking advantage of hardworking and respected nonprofits.  Therefore, rather than spend $500 on social media advertising (Boost) and reach 24,000-62,000 people on social media, they ran a contest campaign which gives them visibility to the loyal followers of 36 nonprofits.

For example, the Equine Rescue Network has over 228,000 followers who now mistakenly believe that that Toyota of Braintree is a good and charitable dealership helping charitable causes. When in fact, they are just getting free advertising.

I am the founder of the Equine Rescue Network (ERN).  I have spent 8 years working daily not only to save horses, donkeys and mules from slaughter, but also to cultivate relationships with my followers.  I have built ERN as brand that is recognized as a trusted resource in the horse community.  ERN is committed to transparency, ethical conduct and protects the integrity of the ERN brand.

ERN is a nonprofit, not a paid advertising platform for business like Toyota. Our mission is to save horses, NOT SELL CARS.

btoyActually, our policy is not to any sell products or endorse any business. However, Toyota has somehow circumvented this policy and used our logo to promote the Toyota brand through social media posts.

Nonprofits loose. Toyota wins.  There is another element to consider in this losing equation.  For 35 of the 36 nonprofits, their followers have taken the time to vote and acted in a way they believed benefited the cause.   Yet, their good faith gesture did NOT benefit the cause they support in any way.  Therefore, the next time they are asked to contribute (volunteer or donate), they may feel that they already supported by the act of voting and may not be willing to do more (volunteer or donate).

Running a sustainable nonprofit is challenging.  Every donor and every donation is critical to fulfilling our mission; and our missions are critical to the well-being of those we serve.  As nonprofits, we need to only enter into relationships with businesses who are aligned with our mission and help us serve the needs of our communities – and stay clear of those businesses who just want free advertising and instant access to our followers or mailing lists.

As a digital marketing expert, I would recommend Toyota pick one of the 36 nonprofits and offered a $500 donation (grant).  Better yet, select the nonprofit with the largest following on social media, offer them a $5000 discount on a Toyota vehicle, then plastered “SPONSORED BY TOYOTA” all over the car.  This way they can leverage both on and offline advertising opportunities while being equally beneficial for both nonprofit and business.




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3 Responses to We are a nonprofit, not an advertising platform for Big Business

  1. Claire Coffee says:

    As a digital marketing expert, this is news to you? Or are you pouting because your non-profit didn’t win 500 bucks? Puhleeze.

    • K. Maitland says:

      As a “NOT a digital marketing expert”, I appreciated the explanation above! It made me think of a number of the groups I support. So I will continue to support them, ERN included, and forget about the online voting contests from this point on. Thanks to J. Jacques for continuing my education. Now that I KNOW better, I’ll DO better.

  2. SAO says:

    I wouldn’t saying she is pouting rather she is educating those of us who didn’t realize that now Toyota will have our, our friends, etc. information to be able to send out advertisements with the “Look! Your friend recommends Toyota!” There are many people out there that use social media that do not understand all the ramifications when they vote.

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