A good brand’s reaction to any human tragedy is to try to find a way to help. Most recently, we have seen an outpouring of support for the Orlando victims, and we can recall the many millions of dollars raised for Katrina, Haiti, Sandy Hook, 9/11, among, unfortunately, many other devastating events.

Cause marketing may not be the most accurate term to describe a brand’s efforts to pitch in, but since these efforts can arguably come under this penumbra, here are a number of non-exclusive charitable ways a brand can support the victims of horrendous natural or man-made events.

Flat Donation. Perhaps the simplest form of assistance can be through a flat donation. Legally, this is the least complicated method, and would simply involve sending a check to a reputable charity who is involved in the relief efforts. For example, Disney recently announced a $1 million cash commitment to the OneOrlando Fund. A few things to keep in mind:

  • You should confirm the charity’s legitimacy and that they are properly registered as a charitable organization.
  • To ensure that the money is used for a particular purpose, you can send a simple letter to the charity with the donation stating: “It is our specific intent and wish that you use this donation in support of [the victims of the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack, their families and the surrounding Orlando community.]”
  • For belt and suspenders, you can consider a letter agreement with the charity confirming your donative intent.
  • In any advertising make sure that you do not try to tie the donation into any purchase by a consumer. Instead, it would be best to say, such as: “[Brand] is a proud sponsor of [the Orlando shooting relief efforts]” Or “[Brand] supports the [Charity’s] relief efforts in [Orlando]”

Commercial Co-Venture. This involves a donation based upon sales of your product. While often this campaign is intended to allow consumers to play a part in relief efforts, specific thought should be given as to whether such a campaign could be seen as an effort to profit off of a tragedy. Here are some thoughts:

  • While established, nationwide charities are often involved in local relief efforts, many times, local charities are established to receive donations for a particular tragedy. These local charities may not be registered in all 50 states. So, before commencing a ccv campaign, know where the charity is registered to solicit donations and limit your campaign to only those states.
  • Consider the lead time needed to start a ccv campaign. Commercial co-ventures typically require a signed contract with the charity and must be registered and/or bonded in a number of states. This process could take a few weeks, so you may not be able to participate in any immediate relief efforts.
  • Consider limiting the campaign to the specific state where the event occurred. The ccv laws may be less onerous depending on the state. For example, Florida requires that the company obtain the charity’s written consent and a final accounting.

Other Options. There are myriad ways a company can help during a tragedy. Here are some additional efforts to consider:

  • Point of Sale Program: You can put out a jar to collect donations for a charity’s relief efforts. Some best practices would be: Do not commingle collection funds with purchases; Do not actively (overly) encourage customers to make donation; Do not tell customers that the donation is in any way affected by their purchase.
  • Get the Message Out: You can use your resources to work to promote the cause, such as airing TV, radio or print ads. Do not, however, take any money from the charity for your efforts.
  • Get Your Employees Involved: Companies have much more leeway when working with their employees. You can ask employees to make donations, you can match their donations, or they can contribute their free time to the cause.

For almost every significant devastating event, companies have raised tens of millions of dollars to help support the victims, clean-up, rebuilding and other charitable efforts. And they will likely continue to do so. These acts not only help worthy causes, but help consumers realize that big business can also mean big hearts.