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The Best Non-Profit Intel

Find More Money: Partnerships that “Pay”

You’ve got great insight as to where you need to push the needle to further your impact; You probably also have great ideas about what and how to do it. But there is just not enough time, resources, or bottom line money to make it happen in order to see the results you imagine. You contemplate whether you need to venture out on a smaller scale to gauge results so that you can build a case for something larger, but you know that doesn’t always work. You simply won’t get the momentum you really need. Sound familiar? Don’t worry—you’re not alone.

North American Sponsorship spending is up 17% since 2010*, and “cause marketing” specifically has taken on a whole new life in recent years. We can argue whether this is truly a “new” discipline or simply a spin on the more traditional forms of sponsorship, but bottom line—lots of really great organizations are getting together to really make a difference.

It comes down to rallying efforts around messaging and engaging in strategic storytelling that gives back for all parties. The discipline is rooted in the philosophy that “We can do more together than alone.” Joining forces and sharing resources (yes, including money) can rally people together for a cause everyone supports.

Here’s a primer on cause marketing and the potential opportunities it offers:

Let’s begin with a definition proposed by our friends at the Cause Marketing Forum:

Cause marketing is a strategic marketing partnership that pairs a company or brand with a social cause or cause-related organization for mutual benefit.

Benefits for cause-based organizations look something like this:

  • Increased revenue
  • Enhanced visibility of the cause or the nonprofit’s message
  • Increased volunteer pool
  • Access to new audiences
  • Connections to the other corporation’s networks of employees, suppliers, distributors, and other contacts
  • Expertise in marketing, strategy development, and other corporate experience

How did the discipline evolve? That’s really a question of looking at how and why organizations give money in the first place, from philanthropy to sponsorship and beyond. Here’s an extract from an article** that helps provide context:

Historically, philanthropy was managed by the community investment department or corporate foundation and was altruistic in nature. A philanthropic activity — such as the act of donating money, goods, services, time, and/or effort — was intended to support a socially beneficial cause without financial or material reward to the donor.

In contrast, sponsorship was the responsibility of the marketing department and the objectives directly linked to marketing goals, such as brand awareness and product sales. The basic purpose of company sponsorship, as distinct from philanthropy, is that the company expects some kind of marketing opportunity as a result of their support; generally in the form of advertising or publicity in connection to the sponsored event.

The line between philanthropy and sponsorship has begun to blur. As it exists today, corporate philanthropy has become, in many ways, a compromise or a hybrid of the two. During the past decade, the majority of corporate dollars going to nonprofit groups have come from the marketing rather than philanthropic budgets. The relationship is moving from “grantor-grantee” to one in which projects are set up to benefit both the company and the partnering nonprofit organization.

Research continues to show that a growing number of sponsors are looking to establish partnerships that create incremental value for both parties through efforts such as developing content, collaborating on activation, and creating new products.*

There are many ways that companies can become involved with each other and mutually support each other:

Fundraising-based events like runs, walks, and rides continue to rise in popularity and are playing an increasingly important role in diversifying the revenue streams for nonprofits. While other types of events like clean-ups, health screenings, or guerilla marketing stunts are aimed at raising awareness.

Transactional campaigns are structured around donations being made once a product purchase as been made. The Tom’s “buy a pair; give a pair” (of shoes) was a very successful (and popular) campaign of this type.

Standard media and advertising campaigns provide opportunity for partners to pool resources to increase reach.

And digital initiatives are of course also gaining traction as organizations continue to learn more about and tap into the ever-changing powers of technology. In the digital space, partners can become catalysts for driving interest, engagement and enthusiasm for each others’ digital, social, and mobile platforms through their nearly unparalleled ability to provide relevant content. IEG suggests that as more marketers discover the ability to drive positive ROI by integrating digital and sponsorship efforts, the effect should be stronger growth for both segments.

No matter the format though, the aim is to share a specific cause-focused message with greater potential for reach and impact.

From a branding perspective, it also offers more flexibility. If the campaign is a joint initiative it can take on an identity if its own, making it easier to track the results and conversions specifically generated by the campaign.

It also offers greater control over the management of your brand. If the campaign is received well, you can leverage the goodwill into your brand equity. If the campaign fails, your brand equity isn’t necessarily tarnished. Campaigns live and die and people get that.

It’s also important to note that cause marketing campaigns don’t necessarily have to be exclusive arrangements between only two companies. When resources are limited, we have to be creative about how we identify and leverage common efforts.

We often rely on endorsements and testimonials as a way of bolstering credibility. The partnerships and associations you make are no different. Seek out allies whose work you would endorse as well.

Your audience is more likely to respond to a joint program as it implies credibility: “If all of these organizations are standing behind something, then it must be important”.

A strong, unified voice is more impactful than the noise of many individual ones.



* 2014 IEG Sponsorship Report