Anatomy of a Cause Marketing Pinup


Point-of-sale programs are the backbone of cause marketing, raising the majority of consumer donations each year. The dominating point-of-sale tactic is pinups.

One question I get all the time after I present on the different types of cause marketing tactics is “What’s a pinup? And where do I get them?”

The second question always cracks me up because I envision people searching for pinups in the aisles of Target or Walmart. I can hear them saying, “Where can I buy those damn things?!”

You can stop your search. You don’t buy pinups at a store. A printer makes them for you. Here are a few other things you should know about pinups.

1. A pinup, which is sometimes called a paper plaque, paper icon, scannable, or mobile, is sold in restaurants, department stores and any other place that has customers and a register. Most pinups are sold for between $1 and $5, although I’ve seen them sold for more and less. When the customer buys one, the donation is added to their bill. They usually sign their name to the pinup, which is then displayed somewhere in the business as a sign of customer support for the cause.


Most pinups aren’t that big, just several inches tall and wide. They can be any shape, or die cut to look like a teddy bear, shamrock, heart, etc. The paper used for pinups is usually inexpensive, and for good reason as just about all pinups will end up in the trash at the end of a program.

Remember, the bigger the pinup, the more fancy the design, the heavier paper stock used, the more it will cost you to design, print and ship.

Most pinups cost anywhere from a few cents to a dime apiece to produce. The most I ever paid for a pinup was 18 cents each, but it was die cut, four-color, large, perforated, etc. Yours will probably be cheaper. As always, it depends on your designer, printer and your willingness to shop around and negotiate.

2. Most pinups have a place on the front where the donor can write his or her name.  It’s not necessary, but it does make the pinup a bit more personal.

3. Most pinups have the nonprofit’s logo on the front with some kind of tagline.

4. Putting a picture on a pinup is a good idea as it puts a face on the campaign. You’re not just giving to MDA when you buy its pinup. You’re helping those kids!


5. The back of most pinups includes a barcode that can be scanned at the register. This makes it much easier for cashiers to process the donation and for the business to report the donation to the nonprofit. When I began my career in the nonprofit world in the early 1990’s, cashiers used to keep donations separate in an envelope next to the register. It wasn’t the best or safest way to handle donations. If a business won’t or can’t use a barcode (e.g. a bakery, coffee shop) a good option is to designate a button on the register to record the donation.

6. The back of the pinup usually includes additional information on the nonprofit, perhaps your mission statement.

7. The shamrock pinup from MDA is a classic design that really hasn’t changed much in the past 30 or 40 years. Yeah, it’s been around that long. Other options for the pinup include coupons, which means printing a larger pinup. This can be worth it, however, as coupons can give shoppers an extra incentive to give. Businesses also like coupons, especially when other business partners in the program are distributing them to potential new customers. What’s often overlooked is that pinups are a great place to promote a program or an upcoming event (e.g. charity bike ride, walk or run). It sure beats paying for advertising.

The best alternatives to pinups are electronic asks via credit card machine (you can see an example here) and what I call passive cause marketing programs. The latter is similar to pinups but the cashier doesn’t verbally ask for a donation. These programs are less intrusive to customers and less work for the cashier, but they also tend to raise a lot less money too.

Consumers may find charity asks at the register annoying, but they also tend to give more money and more frequently when someone asks “Would you like to donate a dollar to ______________________.”

What questions can I answer on cause marketing pinups? Just leave them in the comments below!