I’m not in that category of people described as cynics so I tend to see the positive in almost everything. Excuse me for a minute while I tout what I think is a pure win-win and thank the folks at American Express for coming up with the idea more than 20 years ago. Which idea? Cause marketing, also known as cause-related marketing.

In 1983, American Express created cause-related marketing as a way to boost their brand’s visibility (and thus, number of cardholders) while also raising money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. Brilliant idea! Just today, I see that Dr. Pepper has a new program where a portion of their diet soda proceeds will be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast-cancer research foundation. Several lines down in that same e-newsletter, Coca-Cola is announcing their program of donating money and product to the 2009 Special Olympics in Boise, ID.

When American Express first came up with the concept, it was new and struck a chord. Today, with our heightened sense of social responsibility, cause marketing has even more power to touch the hearts and wallets of consumers. Think of the thought process of the average Jane Doe, when given a choice between a nationally branded product with no “feel-good” attached, compared to a competitive product that gives the infamous “warm fuzzy” because a fraction of the purchase price goes to a non-profit toward which she has a particular affinity. Pretty much a no-brainer.

Of course, there are many details to think through before entering into a cause-marketing relationship but read up, there are many articles by the experts with good advice on how to do it right. Just think through which non-profit is right for your company, your employees and your product. Then make sure all the particulars are ironed out and in writing and you should be good to go. And by the way, just announcing a partnership with a non-profit is not good enough, the for-profit company needs to invest in a dedicated marketing campaign in order to be successful.