There are many cooks in the proverbial kitchen of social innovation. The most common partnership, and possibly the easiest, for companies to tackle as they venture out into the world of cross sector relationships is the signature partnership between a for profit and a nonprofit.
With a myriad of charities and causes near and dear to all of our hearts, it can be a challenge to settle on one or two to place your focus on. Your initiative should be targeted to, and the cause should be in alignment with, the core business of the company - not a random charity that the organization simply throws money at in an effort to look philanthropic.
There are a number of steps that should to be taken before a business enters into a mutually beneficial partnership with a nonprofit organization. Before proceeding, it must consider whether the nonprofit partner is relevant and adds value to its products and services and ultimately, its brand. Clear goals must be agreed to at the start and the desired impact must be clearly measurable.
In a healthy partnership, the business has a genuine interest in the welfare of the community and the planet. By assisting a compelling cause, benefits include noteworthy press about its efforts which may result in higher product sales, social impact investors and enthusiastic new workers. Evidence of the company’s values-based initiatives needs to start at the top with the CEO and trickle down to a commitment by all departments and the staff.
The partnership should be focused, targeted and designed to bring the most benefits to both partners, financial and otherwise. It’s a good idea for the nonprofit to consider whether its good name will be watered down by aligning with a for-profit business whose support might not be genuine. Or, whose business practices might be questionable in a world which is trying to solve problems, not create new ones.
As an equal partner in the relationship, the nonprofit has a mutual responsibility to support the for-profit business. Unfortunately, there is generally more communicated about the good work that the nonprofit is doing than the great things that the partner company does to support it. So, it must play an active role in the campaign by engaging its own supporters and, communicating to them any exciting news about the mutually beneficial relationship. The purpose of the campaign must be interesting to its supporters and the company’s customers.
In a successful partnership, the nonprofit may benefit from additional media outreach through its partner’s marketing efforts. Or, in many instances, additional volunteers may be added from the corporate employee pool or community members that have become engaged through the additional press. And, with greater corporate involvement in the day to day business, it may find added trust, loyalty and pride from its own employees, board members and donors because of efficiencies through cost savings, required transparency and visible accountability.
As your company steps out of the “Me” world to the “We” world, remember that cause marketing, often called “selfish giving”, can quickly turn in to a foe rather than a friend if not strategically planned. Consumers are savvy and may see marketing attempts as ploys rather than authentic partnerships. To the market, the company will look more sincere and genuinely concerned when it formalizes the affiliation, spreads the word about the partnership and is actively involved in making the cause or nonprofit a success.
Be aware that states are beginning to audit and regulate these types of programs understanding that though they can be of immense benefits to the nonprofits and the business, the consumers must be protected as well. The Attorney General of New York posted some great “best practices” to keep in mind:
Clearly Describe the Promotion
Allow Consumers to Easily Determine Donation Amount
Be Transparent About What is Not Apparent
Ensure Transparency in Social Media
Tell the Public How Much Was Raised
Remember that campaigns are most effective for both the business and nonprofit if they are informative, interactive and engaging. The goal should be to build brand loyalty and a community by connecting personally at an emotional level with all the stakeholders, customers, vendors and employees so that they become ambassadors for your brand.
I have included a helpful Signature Partnership Checklist to help you evaluate any nonprofits you may be considering alignment with.
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All rights reserved – Linda Lattimore