Pop quiz: If you had to decide between donating to a worthy charity and improving sales of your self-published book, which would you choose?
Answer: It’s a trick question—you can do both at the same time!
At Self-Publishing Relief, we know that donating a portion of your book sales to a nonprofit charity (aka cause marketing) can be an effective way to promote your self-published book AND give a little back. But be warned: If you do it the wrong way, your good intentions could backfire—resulting in legal issues and damage to your reputation.
Let’s check out the RIGHT way to donate proceeds from your book sales to nonprofits, charities, and social causes—and create new book marketing opportunities at the same time!
What Is Cause Marketing And How Can Writers Benefit?
Here is one definition of cause marketing: a promotional initiative that supports a commercial product or business, which passes along benefits to charitable causes and nonprofit organizations.
In other words, if you’ve ever purchased a container of yogurt and felt good about the fact that the company donates 5 percent of its profits to charity, then you have basked in the good vibes of cause marketing.
Now, most business executives and marketing experts do not consider cause marketing initiatives to be purely philanthropic. After all, true generosity would be donating without asking consumers to participate by supporting a commercial effort. When a company simply wants to give money to a good cause, it can donate directly.
Cause marketing is different. It’s commonly regarded as a legitimate and ethical way of promoting a for-profit product—with the intention of raising funds for charity being secondary. Most consumers appreciate commercial donation campaigns, but some people see cause marketing as mere lip service.
Donating some of the proceeds from your book sales to charity is a form of cause marketing for writers. And if you like the idea of promoting your self-published book while also supporting your favorite nonprofits, cause marketing may be for you.
5 Reasons Cause Marketing Can Be A Win-Win For Book Authors And Charities
Cause marketing really does help make the world a better place. According to a report cited by Engage for Good: Cause sponsorship is predicted to reach $2.14 billion in 2018, a projected increase of 4.4 percent over 2017. That’s a lot of money making it into the coffers of nonprofits and other worthy organizations. Without cause marketing, those donations may not have been made.
Cause marketing makes book buyers happy. Most buyers prefer to make purchases that support cause marketing campaigns. According to Consumer Reports:
Surveys show that almost 90 percent of consumers say that given similar price and quality, they’re likely to switch to a brand associated with a good cause. (Case studies suggest that is actually what happens in stores.) And businesses get to bask in the warm glow of good PR.
Cause marketing is becoming the norm. Young consumers, especially millennials, look for cause marketing campaigns when they are deciding where to spend their money, and companies that do not embrace cause marketing are not viewed as positively as those organizations that donate and give. When today’s buyer makes a purchase that comes with a little zingy feeling of happiness due to a sense of giving back, brand loyalty can be forged.
Cause marketing gives people a unique reason to talk about your book. Donating proceeds of your book sales can give readers a good feeling about you as a person and about their purchase. But it can also give people a great reason to talk about you or invite you to speak at an event or venue.
Cause marketing can go viral. Asking Facebook fans and followers to click “share” or “like” so that you can sell more copies of your self-published book doesn’t always go over well. But asking your fans and followers to share a unique opportunity to donate to a worthy cause can encourage people to spread the word about your book. Cause marketing can make readers feel less like they are engaging in book advertising and more like they are doing good.
The 4 Main Things You MUST Understand Before You Donate Proceeds Of Book Sales To Charity
Thoroughly investigate your charity of choice. Before you give your support (and your dollars) to a charity, be sure to research the organization’s reputation. You may be surprised by what you learn! Sometimes, the most highly regarded charities and nonprofits are not necessarily the most well-known names.
Websites like Charity Navigator rank nonprofits based on how effectively they use their donations and what percentage of the donations actually go toward the cause (as opposed to administrative costs). Do your research before you launch your cause marketing campaign so you can defend your charity of choice if any questions or criticisms arise on social media.
Embrace transparency, specificity, and full disclosure. If you are going to make promises about donating profits from book sales to charity, be ready to share details. Lots of details. Not only will you need to offer very specific information about what you are planning to donate and how you are planning to donate it, but you must also be prepared to prove that you’ve done what you promised.
Check out the Better Business Bureau’s guide to donating charitable proceeds.
Here’s an example of a charitable cause marketing announcement that would be frowned upon by the Better Business Bureau as being too vague:
I will donate a percentage of my book sales to Name of Charity, up to $500.
Why this is a problem: Statements like this raise more questions than they answer. What specific percentage is being donated? Two percent? Fifty percent? There’s a big difference. Plus, what happens to the money that the buyer believed was earmarked for charity when the $500 threshold is reached? Does money that the book buyer hoped would go to charity go into the author’s pocket instead? Also, for how long is this donation campaign going to last?
The more specific you can be about your intentions, the less likely you’ll run into difficult questions or sticky situations. Plus, you’ll be less likely to find yourself in legal hot water.
Lying or inaccuracy—even by mistake—is punishable by law. Charity fraud is a major offense. Here’s where you can learn a little bit more about the laws that govern charitable donations. Always be sure to keep clear, detailed records of your sales and donations.
Cause marketing donations might be tax-deductible—for you, but not for your buyers. If you are writing off a portion of your profits because you are donating them to charity, you may be able to list your donation as tax deductible on your tax returns. That said, the people who purchase your book at full price are not directly making a donation to charity, so their purchases are not normally considered tax-deductible. Learn more about tax law and cause marketing.
Important Note: We’re not lawyers or accountants. Please speak to a lawyer or accountant with expertise in charity donations if you have any questions or concerns.
6 Important Questions To Ask Yourself Before Setting Up A Book Sales Charitable Donation Campaign
Before you launch your cause marketing campaign and begin funneling profits from your book sales to charity, you have some decisions to make. These questions will get you started:
- Will you donate a percentage of book sales? Or a fixed amount per sale (regardless of book promotion price drop campaigns or other pricing factors)?
- Will you put a cap on your total donation amount? If so, how will you make that clear to buyers? And what happens after the cap has been reached?
- Will you donate ONLY if readers purchase their copy from your author website (or another web page you set up)? Or will you donate across all of your retail platforms?
- For how long will your donation campaign run? Forever? Or just on the day of your book launch? Or some other specified duration?
- Are you donating based on net profits or gross profits? In other words, if you’re going to tell people you’re donating a “portion of proceeds,” does that mean you are deducting your personal investment in publishing from the donation equation—or not? What—exactly—do you consider “proceeds”?
- How will you prove that you are making the donation? Will you share sales data? Receipts from the charity in question? Or engage a third party to oversee and verify your donations?
5 Ways To Help Buyers Donate A Portion Of Your Book Sales To A Charity
Most charities and nonprofits agree that there is no one specific way to set up a cause marketing campaign. Instead, you will need to create a donation opportunity that will work for both you and your book buyers.
Here are a few options:
Set up a dedicated web page specifically for book sales with an emphasis on charitable giving. Make sure that this page of your author website offers very specific details about your intentions to donate a portion of your self-published book sales. Link to this page wherever you refer to your donation campaign. Not only can you use your text to easily clear up questions that may arise, but you’ll also have a new tool that drives traffic into your website.
PRO TIP: Since visitors will be dropping by your website to check out your donation campaign, why not entice them to sign up for your author mailing list using any of these great ideas for creating author-reader connections?
Add a “donate” button to your author website. PayPal offers functionality that allows you to connect the people who visit your website with specific charities. With a “donate now” button, it’s easy for visitors to donate fast—even if they don’t want to buy a book. Including a “donate” button that doesn’t require the purchase of a book is a great way to demonstrate your authentic commitment to supporting a charity.
Use a charitable donation app. Apps that allow purchasers to donate a portion of proceeds to charities can be found all over the Internet. For example: This donate-a-portion-of-proceeds app from Shopify could be helpful to writers who are selling their book from their author website. As always, be sure to research any apps or plugins (especially those involving money) before you use them. Find more donation-related apps here.
If you sell books primarily through a third-party retailer, build the specific amount you plan to donate into your book’s price. If you’re selling your self-published book mainly on Amazon or Kobo, you might not be able to automatically deduct a portion of the proceeds to donate to the charity you’re supporting. In this case, good accounting will be necessary on your part to ensure that the proper donations are made.
Disclose your good deeds. You may want to dedicate a page on your website to documentation that can prove you are donating proceeds of book sales according to your stated intentions. Supporting documents might include snippets of tax returns (with no personally identifying information), book sales inventories, or other receipts.
But at the very least, make sure that you are routinely sharing the good news of your donations in order to demonstrate that your cause marketing campaign is helping to make a real difference in the world.
Spread The Word: How To Promote Your Plan To Donate Proceeds From The Sales Of Your Books To A Good Cause
Ask for the marketing support of your chosen charity. Suggest to the charity that they offer a link to your donations campaign on their websites or social media pages. You can also propose doing a guest blog swap (you blog on their site and they blog on yours).
Post news and updates about your campaign on your blog and social media pages. Keep people updated. Not only will this help them feel good about their role in your donation campaign, but it will also give you an opportunity to reach new readers when news of your success is liked and shared.
Consider targeted promotional initiatives. Once in a while, you may want to run a high-energy, limited-time-only promotion. For example, perhaps you will double the percentage of your charitable donations during a book price drop promotion. By focusing your marketing efforts within a specific timeframe, you may see a bump in book sales.
What Does Cause Marketing Mean To You?
As cause marketing becomes more widespread, some people may become cynical about it. You could find that readers might “call you out” for disingenuous support of a charity. If you do decide to take up the cause of a charity by donating profits from your self-published book sales, be sure that you feel comfortable with your decision.
Writer, can you help? Please share your opinion about cause marketing in our comments section. Do you vote for or against it?