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This season, Americans will spend upwards of $450 billion on holiday giving, spending roughly $380 per household on gifts (down from last year's estimate of $418) according to the Conference Board. While retail spending is expected to decline, charitable giving this season is expected to grow. According to a survey commissioned by the American Red Cross, more than 90 percent of Americans plan to donate to charity this season. More than 70 percent of survey respondents felt that it is more important than ever to donate because of the state of the economy. No doubt, this support is deeply needed.

Consumers are taking this interest in charitable support to the marketplace. They're looking for more meaningful brand experiences and are voting with their pocketbooks for ethical companies and quality brands that not only reflect their social and environmental values, but also provide an authentic opportunity to give back. As a result, many retailers are turning to cause-related marketing this holiday season. Here are a few of the most effective examples from this season:

Starbucks launched a holiday-themed promotion with (RED) supporting the Global Fund's HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. Starbucks' campaign includes $.05 donation for select drinks, a $1 donation for any purchase over $15 and an "All You Need Is Love" CD, John Legend, U2, Dave Matthews Band and Playing for Change. Starbucks is getting the most bang for its buck by integrating several promotions into an overall holiday giving campaign and bringing it to life both in the store and online.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is building upon their partnership with the Nothing But Nets campaign by giving 2 free tickets to every person who makes a donation to the campaign via between December 15 to January 31. Through the promotion, the NBA is able to turn fans into donors and donors into fans.

Macy's launched a digital cause promotion in which visitors to their site post a letter or video to Santa about why they believe in giving and the holiday spirit. Macy's donates $1 for each letter or video to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, up to $1 million. Macy's program has created significant buzz online, authentically building upon their history with Santa and their partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation linking social media, online giving, and online shopping.

Retailers are not the only one focused on holiday gifts that give back; many nonprofits are placing increased focus on promoting holiday swag. For example:

Invisible Children, a popular youth-oriented campaign focused on ending the war in Northern Uganda is promoting their branded apparel, DVDs and other items this season. One item of note is the MEND bag is sustainably manufactured by local woman in a conflict-affected area of Uganda. Through the bag, Invisible Children is generating real value for the communities for which they advocate.

UNICEF-USA's Inspired Gifts program encourages donors to give lifesaving gifts to children in need by packaging UNICEF's work into tangible solutions such as a bed net, a soccer ball or oral rehydration salts. Through the effort, UNICEF USA is tapping into consumer's interest in giving something tangible (beyond a general donation).

Charity: Water is focused on using designer packaging to sell it's bracelets, water bottles and t-shirts which support the organizations efforts around clean water. By selling relatively inexpensive gifts in sleek packaging, Charity : Water can ensure a greater percentage of overall funding goes to support its efforts.

Cause-marketing isn't going anywhere, and will likely continue to grow throughout the year and into the holiday. A few tips for consumer and nonprofit brands that want to get involved, both next holiday season and year-round:

  • Start Early: Cause-marketing promotions often require more time to plan than traditional campaigns, because they typically involve non-traditional business partners (non-profits) and additional layers of internal and external approvals. Marketers should begin planning their 2010 holiday cause-marketing promotion in Q1.
  • Tell Your Story: A cause- related promotion is not only an opportunity to drive sales, but also to tell the greater story about your corporate values and sustainability efforts. Use an individual promotion as an opportunity to educate consumers about your company's commitment to a cause, the community or the environment at large.
  • Be Authentic: Winning in the cause-marketing space demands being highly authentic in every aspect of the program: from your partnerships, to the amount of your donations, to how you communicate your program. Surround yourself with people internally and externally who can help you to authentically engage consumers.
  • Think Both Online and Offline: With consumers turning to the Internet to make their charitable donations as well as their retail purchases, a robust digital program is key for holiday giving. While an online presence is critical, an effective campaign is brought to life through as many marketing channels as possible to ensure a high return on investment.
  • Be Fully Sustainable: Think about holistic sustainability in your cause-marketing promotion. How is the product sourced? Are your marketing and promotions materials made with environmentally friendly materials? Are you reducing and offsetting the impact of your holiday events and promotions?

Simon Isaacs leads ignition Social Experiential marketing division, focusing on applying the tactics, methods and approaches of experiential-marketing to social and environmental causes and the organizations and companies working to address them.

Simon previously served as an advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UN Foundation, the Dow Chemical Company and several celebrities and high profile philanthropists. Simon's has significant experience in an array of issues including water and sanitation, humanitarian relief, AIDS orphans, and community development.

Simon previously lived in Rwanda where he worked for the William J. Clinton Foundation, directing safe drinking water and agriculture programs. Prior to Rwanda, Simon served as a Partnerships Officer at the United Nations Foundation where he focused on corporate partnerships in support of the UN's disaster response effort. Simon directly built and managed more than $30 million in partnerships. Simon is also responsible for helping to establish the Global Water Challenge.

Simon speaks 5 languages and holds several awards and fellowships. Simon established and helps to run the Lisa DeFrancis Cancer Fund, a non-profit named after his mother, which provides grants to oncology nurses. In addition to his professional and academic work, Simon is a serious runner, placing 2nd in the San Francisco Marathon and more recently running around the world as part of the Blue Planet Run.