Rachel Ray, the CBS TV personality and Emmy-winning chef, has donated 4 tons of her Nutrish brand of wet and dry dog food to the canine victims of Hurricane Sandy. She believes she should give back in the same way as she makes a living.

Everybody who makes a product or offers a service needed by the victims can learn from her example. She demonstrated that her product stands for something greater than the product itself – being a humanitarian, and showing true concern for the welfare of victims in crisis. In this increasing transparent society, she gains credibility that can’t help but add value to her brand.

We know the benefits of Worthy Cause Marketing. We made our living in the wine industry. When we started the Barefoot Wine brand, we had no money for advertising. So, we used our product and our market presence to  support causes we cared about outside of business, namely conservation and human rights. The members of the organizations we supported now had a social reason to support our product. Our participation in causes we held dear built a national bestselling brand.

So as brand builders, what can we learn from Rachel’s thoughtful act of charity? Doing good is good for business. Her example gives other companies permission to emulate this approach. By donating her Nutrish brand dog food she has done several things that help build her brand.

1. Product. She took a broader view of her product. She didn’t just see its commercial features and benefits, or even its nutritional advantages. She saw it as a necessity in a time of crisis. She asked the question “How do I make my living and how can I give back?” In other words, how can I use my product to help?

2. Timing. Sandy was a national disaster and close to home for her. Being a producer of dog food, she couldn’t help but be sensitive to the immediate needs of distressed and hungry dogs who were victims as well. Her donation will hopefully encourage other producers to donate to those in need.

3. Opportunity. To demonstrate that you are concerned about your customers and sensitive to the events that can affect their welfare, look for opportunities to do whatever you can to provide your products or services to causes you support.

4. Exposure. When your product or service is offered to new consumers, it demonstrates your product’s value and benefits to many who not otherwise use it. Your brand’s growth is largely dependent on sampling and referrals by satisfied customers.

5. Loyalty. More than ever, customers are interested in what your brand stands for beyond the product you sell. They know they vote with their money. They want to support products and services that demonstrate a level of quality, care and compassion.

As a nation, we spend upwards of $150 billion annually in advertising. We would like to see just 10% of that money redirected into Worthy Cause Marketing.

There are many alternatives to paid advertising that may be more effective in brand building, while helping to make the world a better place. Bravo, Rachel, and to all the companies that stepped up to the plate to help the Sandy victims and other worthy causes.