The breast cancer survivor sat patiently as the nonprofit's board of directors discussed a recent corporate gift designated for breast cancer education, programs and research. As a longtime board member, she listened intently as the group debated whether to accept the check from a tobacco subsidiary of a well-known retail company. Tobacco causes cancer, board members said—they would be hypocritical to accept the gift and should return it.

The debate grew more heated between those who wanted to maintain a sense of integrity and those who wanted to use the funds to help further the cause. Finally, the usually quiet woman spoke when she couldn't keep silent any longer.

"I'm a breast cancer survivor," she reminded the group. "I don't care where the money comes from—let's just cure the damn disease."

No one said a word for several minutes as her message resonated. Did it really matter who contributed, how they did it or what the motive was... if the result would be honorable?

In "The State of Corporate Citizenship in the U.S: A View from Inside," a 2004 survey conducted by the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College and the US Chamber of Commerce Center for Corporate Citizenship, results showed that US business executives "see corporate citizenship as a fundamental part of business."

Overwhelmingly (75%), executives polled said their founding traditions and core organizational values are factors in their companies' decisions to invest in corporate citizenship. And 82% said good corporate citizenship helps the bottom line, and over half of respondents cited expectations from customers and consumers as motivating factors.

Corporations have several options when showing support for their communities. Through corporate philanthropy and volunteering, corporate giving has been a mainstay of the nonprofit sector for several years. Options include establishing company-sponsored foundations or developing programs that involve contributing cash, goods, services or equipment. Programs can also include cause-related marketing efforts.

The Foundation Center defines cause-related marketing (CRM) as the public association of a for-profit company with a nonprofit organization, intended to promote the company's product or service and to raise money for the nonprofit.

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Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, and a marketing and branding thought leader, speaker, writer, and MarketingProfs contributor. She is the author of the Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most for Small Business Success.

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Twitter: @Elaine_Fogel