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Sparking Corporate Partnerships: Welcome to the Neighborhood

Resource Center - Foundation

(Oct. 6, 2009) In today's environment there is still potential in cause marketing and corporate partnerships between your nonprofit and a for-profit business, large or small. Here's a look at some do's and don'ts when exploring corporate partnerships.

Jocelyne Daw, nonprofit marketing and development consultant, noted speaker and author of Cause Marketing for Nonprofits: Partner for Purpose, Passion and Profits, says nowadays corporate partnerships are still an opportunity for nonprofits. While in some companies, traditional corporate philanthropy may shrink or remain roughly the same, many companies recognize the benefits of community involvement and are committed to remaining active members.

"We are really looking at a new era of corporate community involvement," Daw explains. "There is a growing recognition that company engagement is a must-do. Companies are embracing this new ethos and adding alternative forms of philanthropy and expanding marketing involvement."

New Currencies

When the financial resources of companies are stable or dwindling, savvy nonprofit are looking to non-cash support such as in-kind donations, pro bono services, providing office space and skilled volunteerism. These "new currencies," a term coined by Cone Inc., can help organizations fulfill their mission and build relationships beyond the traditional forms of support. 

From President Obama's national call to service to the enthusiasm of the younger generations for service and involvement, these new forms of philanthropy are resonating particularly well with Gen X employees, Daw explains. This group is often as interested in social advocacy and engagement philanthropy as they are to donating money.

At the same time, companies are now increasingly interested in their image and identity within the community. Faced with concerns for more transparency and accountability, they want to "do good" and tie their brand to good causes. This is a convergence of trends that makes now a great time to partner with companies-via marketing and publicity, sponsorship or cause marketing.

Many Avenues of Partnership

Daw explains that corporate philanthropy is really only one step toward a company's involvement in a cause. Cause-marketing, sometimes known as business-community partnerships, is defined as a company putting the power of its marketing and brand behind a cause, and has been increasing over the past year. An opportunity to provide direct supports to a nonprofit organization and gain critical image building and product sales, cause marketing, done right, is a win-win proposition.

For fundraisers, granting multiple avenues for a company to contribute in this manner may very well open doors for cash gifts in the future, and for the time being will increase the brand awareness of your organization and its unique mission. Partnerships done right make more happen for the people you serve and have positive impact for both parties.

Doing it Right

So how can you make the most of the opportunities out there for corporate partnerships? Better yet, where do you begin? Daw says a successful partnership has a few important ingredients (adapted from Daw's Seven Golden Rules for cause marketing found in her book).

Think win-win: Cause partnerships are about win-win relationships.  Ask what's important to your partner?  How can you help them achieve their goals?  In return, think about what your organization wants to get out of the relationship - exposure, revenue, new friends?  Communicate your needs, listen to theirs and work collaboratively in a way that is win-win.  Success for both partners ensures a relationship not a transaction is the end result.

Focus on values alignment: Daw writes of the importance of ensuring positive brand and "DNA" alignment. Working with a company that shares your organizations values and commitments will ensure a better fit and offer the potential of a longer term relationship.

Combine strengths: A cause-marketing partnership is only as strong as the relationship your organization has with a company. Find out what each of you have to offer, be it strategic planning, communications, marketing, technology or tracking of the project's success. Combine those strengths to make the best campaign, event or project possible.

Have structure, framework and legal requirements in place: While corporate sponsorships provide valuable income to nonprofits, they must be careful to structure mutually beneficial and protective relationships. To avoid risks, especially of implied endorsement, nonprofits are now clearly articulating all aspects of cause marketing partnerships and performing due diligence to make sure that no conflicts of interest exist between the nonprofit and the partner company.

Plan, under promise and over deliver:  Joint planning up front ensures that both partners understand what is expected and outlines a timeline and roles and responsibilities.  Under promise and over deliver is important in managing your partner's expectation.  Better to succeed and surprise than fail and disappoint.

What to Avoid

What do you want to avoid from your company partnership? First, your cause-marketing relationship should not be too one-sided, self-serving or commercial. You want to have advertising that is sincere and that does not appear as an endorsement of a company.  It is also critical to protect the integrity of your organization's brand and visual identity. You want to boost your presence in people's minds, not blur it.  Above all, recognize the value of what your organization has to offer in a partnership. Do not sell your nonprofit short in what it receives in the relationship. Do your due diligence, assess risks and be sure the company you work with really "walks the talk" in its support of your mission and the greater community.

Learn more from Daw's book, Cause Marketing for Nonprofits: Partner for Purpose, Passion and Profits, available in the AFP Bookstore. Daw is working on a new book titled "Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: The Seven Principles to Power Extraordinary Growth," coauthored with Carol Cone, Kristian Darigan and Anne Erhard, set for release in spring 2010.

Jocelyne Daw is a veteran marketer, fundraiser, author and frequent presenter. She formerly served as vice president, marketing and community engagement at Imagine Canada.

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