In May, I had the opportunity to attend the Women Communicators of Austin monthly luncheon. Cynthia McGrail, director of Incite Austin, the social marketing arm of Emmis Communications, shared her expertise on cause marketing to WCA luncheon attendees.

Cause marketing encompasses the fundamental services Too Good Strategy provides to nonprofits and social enterprises, so naturally, Cynthia spoke my language. Her preferred definition details cause marketing as “aligning a company or brand with a cause to generate business and societal benefit.” The key here is alignment. The cause MUST align with the brand – a seemingly overstated truth in the world of marketing that many marketers miss. Why is that?

I surmise most for-profit companies, nonprofits and social enterprises never discover their brand. That’s right, they never actually discover who they are. When any company lacks brand awareness (knowledge of ‘who we are’), picking a cause that aligns with the company’s core values is nearly impossible.

In my line of work, I join socially minded companies on the road to self-discovery in order to develop revolutionary cause marketing ideas. In order to embark on that journey with my clients, tough questions are often necessary, forcing an individual or team to be reflective.

Believe it or not, college graduates relate to cause-brand alignment. Remember when you were graduating college and everyone was asking you, “What are you going to do next?” Basically, asking what do you want to do with your life and how has college helped you discover the answer to that question – what every college grad loves to hear before plunging into the unknown at 22.

Our intern is undergoing that process right now. I had the opportunity to sit down with Rachel at the end of her last semester of UT. Approaching graduation, Rachel came to me for some career advice. As she expounded on her different internship/job opportunities, I simply asked her, “What are you passionate about?” Once she answered, I was able to offer my advice on communications careers and volunteer opportunities. Rachel’s transparency allowed me to point her in the right direction. Because like a company, an individual has a brand.

As a professional, wife, mother and mentor, I have a brand.

The WCA luncheon on cause marketing and graduation season are good reminders to be introspective, always making sure my actions align with who I am. To do this, I turn to Maria Shriver’s advice from her recent commencement speech: “take a break from communicating outwardly, so you can communicate inwardly, with yourself.”

Nonprofits, companies and employees, ask yourself, “Who am I?” But, to do this, you must pause.

Pause, before you pick a cause!