for a Good Cause
Tips for Working with Nonprofit Partners
By Eileen McGervey
DAYS IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE to pick up a newspaper or turn on the news without
hearing another disappointing story of a company or individual who has misled
the public or pursued questionable management strategies. As the list continues
to grow, the negative images impact companies associated with the industries
under fire. Combating these perceptions by saying you have done nothing wrong is
not a positive message. So, many companies do nothing.
Why not say something good? Or
better yet, do something good.
For decades, corporations have made
donations to nonprofits and causes through foundations. While these are
important sources of funding for nonprofits, foundation initiatives for a
corporation tend to be separate from day-to-day business activities, limiting
the participation of employees and customers.
As companies grapple with how to
promote positive images both internally and externally, increased attention is
being focused on cause marketing initiatives. Because cause marketing tends to
be integrated into ongoing business functions, opportunities are created for
ongoing positive communications, and for customers and employees to play a vital
role in the program.
"It’s been almost two decades
since corporations and nonprofit organizations began pursuing each other to
develop innovative marketing campaigns to help both organizations achieve
financial and public relations goals. More companies and their foundations are
augmenting their traditional grant-making functions with these creative cause
marketing collaborations," says Brooks Kenny, principal of Promoting Public
Causes Inc., a marketing communications firm with a niche focus on strategic
philanthropy. "Our goal is to combine our marketing expertise and
creativity to help companies reach their objectives while bringing them closer
to the communities they serve."
How important is cause marketing?
Kenny says very. Cause marketing activities have a significant impact on public
and employee perceptions of a company, especially during difficult economic
times, making now an excellent time to start or increase activities in this area
(see "Cause Marketing Becoming En Vogue," PHONE+, January 2002).
"Research has reinforced the
value of cause marketing, and increasingly helped to fuel campaigns and
partnerships across the country and abroad," he says.
No matter what creative twist
companies take, cause marketing can be a distinctive strategic tool for
corporations, their foundations and nonprofits to pursue. However, before
building any new partnership, it is important to know the nonprofit partner.
the right nonprofit partner and cause is critical to success. Because of the
importance of partner selection, the intricacies of working with the nonprofit
community and the requirements for implementing a successful program, finding
the right nonprofit partner and cause is crucial. It is advisable to work with a
firm experienced in helping clients develop criteria for identifying nonprofit
partners and causes to support, and who have a proven approach for researching
and creating these types of campaigns.
Let’s assume that you already have
embraced strategic partnerships as one approach to fulfilling your philanthropic
objectives and have established a framework for your partnership by addressing
key components, including how to integrate your business and philanthropic
objectives. You have identified those you want to reach and have evaluated the
interest areas of your key audiences (internal and external). Using this
information, you have selected an appropriate nonprofit partner and outlined the
initiative you hope to pursue together.
Now what? It is beneficial to think
of a nonprofit partner as an equal contributor and evaluate what they bring to
the table. What capabilities and creative vehicles do they possess that could be
useful to the partnership? What are their needs?
Here are tips for working with
nonprofit organizations as you develop a cause marketing relationship:
Remember that nonprofits can
provide direct links to key audiences of interest. Whether reaching
consumer segments, business professionals, regional groups or ethnic
communities, nonprofits help distinguish brands or products, and enhance an
organization’s image in the eyes of key customers.
Understand the approval
process. Once a corporation expresses clear interest in a viable
partnership, most nonprofits want to move on a decision to collaborate as
quickly as possible. However, they may need to obtain approval from their
boards of directors before launching into new ventures.
Tap into existing resources.
Nonprofits have existing materials, dissemination channels and activities
that can be tapped into or expanded upon for immediate promotional
opportunities for the partnership. If other materials are needed, discuss
creating additional tools.
Be aware that some nonprofits
may have limited staff or budgets to devote to a partnership. Confirm
who will be responsible for the project on your nonprofit partner’s side and
assess whether sufficient resources are in place to meet your needs. Be
upfront about any concerns you may have. For the right partnership, a
nonprofit will try to shift priorities and dedicate as many resources to the
project as possible.
Decide the term of your
commitment. While some companies prefer to test pilot a new relationship
to get the bugs out as well as uncover any surprises before dedicating
additional resources, longer term relationships have benefits as well. Over
an extended period of time, nonprofits are better able to develop programs
that have a significant impact and companies can build stronger ties with
the issue as well as credibility with the community.
Evaluate the financial
commitment. Nonprofit organizations’ value to the private sector has
been documented by hundreds of successful partnerships and research about
cause marketing’s positive impact on the corporate bottom line. Be aware
that nonprofits will work to strike a financial deal that covers
administrative, programmatic and use-of-name licensing costs associated with
the partnership. Once all parameters are agreed upon, develop a formal
letter of agreement or contract before moving forward.
Work together to get along
and have fun. Recently, a pharmaceutical company involved in a women’s
health cause marketing campaign provided feedback at the conclusion of a
partnership. In response to a question about what unexpected positive
outcomes occurred as a result of the partnership, the answer was an eye
opener. The company expressed how enjoyable it was to build a lasting and
beneficial relationship. Don’t underestimate the importance of investing
time, energy and professional good will in the partnership.
Cause marketing programs can be
important strategic differentiators for a company or product line as well as a
new revenue source. In addition to the financial benefits, cause marketing
offers a positive message about specific actions being taken to give back to the
community. Remember, communications that highlight activity and success in these
programs are critical so stakeholders are aware of the commitment and the value
By taking a thoughtful approach, you
can develop and implement an effective cause marketing program that produces a
win-win between the corporation and nonprofit. With the myriad of daily details
and deadlines involved in running the business, it is easy to put social
responsibility on the back burner, but working with an experienced partner will
allow a company to create a cause-marketing program that delivers a powerful and
Eileen McGervey is a principal at
MarketEdge LLC, a strategic marketing consulting firm. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|MarketEdge LLC www.marketedgeconsultants.com
Promoting Public Causes Inc. www.publiccauses.com
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