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Can Cause-Related Banking Succeed?

Can Cause-Related Banking Succeed?

Written by Joe Waters at

The Beatles were right: money can’t buy you love. But it can buy us a better world, which might explain why consumers are setting aside their own interests in favor of products and services that put others first.

There are shoes from TOMS, donation-only cafes from Panera and even chewing gum from Project 7. The new banking leader of cause businesses is Boston-based ableBanking.

The brainchild of several executives from the Massachusetts banking industry, ableBanking is for depositors who care as much about making a difference as they do earning a good interest rate on their savings.

ableBanking’s savings program is the first of its kind.

Interest rates for savings and CD’s at ableBanking are higher than traditional banks and rival other online savings programs at Ally and ING. But after customers set up an account with ableBanking they get a free $25 to give to a nonprofit, plus an additional $2.50 annually on every $1,000 they keep on-account.

The potential for donors and nonprofits is huge, as ableBanking is proposing to give away ten to twelve times more than what the average bank currently gives to causes. And unlike traditional banks, ableBanking isn’t charging their customers additional fees or spending millions on advertising.

“We are taking the most of our marketing dollars and putting them back into the community,” said Heather Campion, Chief Administrative Officer of the new bank.

The cause is the marketing, and ableBanking is letting customers choose which cause they want to support. This is also a departure from the practices of traditional banks that generally hand out the donations to the pet causes of top executives and big clients.

“Customers know their communities best,” added Campion. “We believe they should be able to choose where they want to make a difference, and we’re giving them the dollars to do that.”

A good works bank such as ableBanking is a logical addition to the roster of socially responsible businesses. But will interest remain high? While TOMS has captured the imagination of do-gooders everywhere, it may be the exception. Cause businesses often lose traction as interest dips and consumers refocus on the almighty dollar.

Causeon tried to be the Groupon of causes but failed. CauseWorld was the Foursquare of cause-related location services but didn’t check-in with users. Even high profile cause businesses such as Edun, which was founded by U2′s Bono and wife Ali Hewson, faltered when shoppers balked on helping Africans when the clothes didn’t meet expectations.

“We focused too much on the mission in the beginning,” Hewson told the Wall Street Journal in 2010. “It’s the clothes, it’s the product. It’s a fashion company. That needs to be first and foremost.”

It’s a sentiment shared by others. John Craven of BevNET, a recognized authority on the beverage industry, commenting on the slew of beverage products that now lead with a cause-related message, believes companies may be putting the cause before the horse. “The best way to help a cause is to be a great business first,” said Craven. “It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, but many companies are hoping to buck conventional wisdom,” he added.

But conventional wisdom has never been the spark for any revolution in business. As Henry Ford once explained, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” Cause businesses such as ableBanking are charting a new course.

Joe Waters blogs at, the web’s #1 cause marketing blog. He is the author of Cause Marketing for Dummies and QR Codes for Dummies.


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some of the best people we know are doing it


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3:17PM PDT on Sep 26, 2012


12:05PM PDT on Sep 17, 2012

It is certainly worth a try

9:44PM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Profit can be made with good practices rather than corporate raiders.

11:52AM PDT on Aug 11, 2012


2:57AM PDT on Aug 9, 2012

Sounds like a great idea to me.

6:41PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

Yes it can, take the triodos bank for instance...

6:03PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

Maybe I don't fully understand this, but the business model seems risky and the interest rates paid to depositors are above traditonal banking levels. All the big banks can fail as far as I am concerned. I use only a credit union.
It would be best to be a sound business and then branch into this. I didn't see anything about FDIC, but that may not mean anything any longer. I donate to all the causes that I am involved with and I do donate to other casues if what they are doing makes sense and I can see what they plan to do.
I don't know about social banking, but how is the depositor's money secured?
What about Facebook, LinkedIn and other big social media. Perhaps, Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson and Warren Buffet could advance this and back it.

1:03PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

This is why I use a credit union and refuse to bank with anyone else.

Can cause related banking succeed? Yes. But more so, it must succeed. We have to change our world. The harm caused by the barbarians is taking too much of a toll on the world.

12:13PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

Sounds very interesting. I'll have to look into this.

11:50AM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

I use Credo for my cell phone company. They support charities, and you can choose which ones you want to support through them. You don't have to make a donation, none of the donations are " out of pocket" for the customer. Also, for a limited time, if you pay your bill through the computer directly out of your checking account, they will plant a tree for you. When I originally contacted them about starting an account, they offered me a Samsung Nexus S phone at no charge, and I have since added my husband to my account. He decided he didn't need a smart phone, so chose a refurbished one. I get 550 minutes that I share with my husband, 300 texts, and unlimited data (on my phone only), we never use all of this, and we pay less than $85.00 a month. The only thing I wish is that the unused minutes and texts would roll over into the next month, which they don't, but otherwise I am totally satisfied with the service!

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