Competition between nonprofits has been widely discussed, mostly as a result of the Komen phenomenon. The Wall Street Journal picked up the debate recently, but bloggers like Megan Strand have been discussing it for months.

So what about competition between companies engaged in cause marketing but in the same space? We social enterprise entrepreneurs face a difficult set of choices. We create a double bottom line company to create wealth, and then spread some of that wealth to society. (It can’t be the other way around because the latter can’t happen without enough of the former).  Of course, not everyone agrees with this definition but that’s a different discussion.

What do we do as competing firms? We want other social enterprises to be successful because we care about their causes and don’t want to see those causes fall victim. But at the same time, we need to be competitive, we need to be better than the next guy in order to be a successful company.

On the other hand, if we approach the market collaboratively we run the risk of being taken advantage of. It’s the prisoner’s dilemma playing out in all its glory.

We have several “competitors” in our space doing somewhat similar work.  No one is doing exactly what we’re doing (aren’t you enticed to find out what that is?) but that doesn’t mean they’re not competing.  How do we handle that?  What do we tell our partners?  What do we tell our investors?

My answer is to err on the side of respect. The cause space is still open and cause fatigue is not (yet) a reality. Those companies that are faking cause marketing probably won’t shake out but those who genuinely engage will benefit each other by paving the way for each other’s success. Consumers need more good cause marketing right now so they can gain sophistication and the market can mature.  Plus, I’d rather live in a “zillion sum” world.

Well, that’s just me. What do you think?

 

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