What Does Great Collaboration Between Brands and Nonprofits Look Like?

Recently, a nonprofit called the Marshall Project, which brings to light information about criminal justice, partnered with several local papers, including The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, to reveal how prisons were billing parents when their children were incarcerated or offering different incarceration options for payment.

The Marshall Project provided research help, expertise, and reporters. The newspapers provided reporters, but also their large local audiences. Together they made a big difference. “The city of Philadelphia announced Friday that it will stop billing parents for the cost of their children’s incarceration, just hours after a front-page Marshall Project story in The Washington Post highlighted the practice in the city and across the nation,” writes Eli Hager.

There are many benefits for nonprofits and purpose-driven organizations when they partner with for-profit companies. How might your organization reap those benefits? And how might your social media team communicate about a partnership and use it to your organization’s best advantage?

A recent article by Andy Semons in Adweek explores successful and not so successful partnerships between brands and causes. Semons also offers great advice for organizations that want to try out a profit and nonprofit partnership.

Find the Right Partner

Shared Core Values

“The common ground between a for-profit and a cause should appear as more than a random or haphazard decision,” writes Semons. The company you chose to partner with should have core values that align with your organization’s cause. The benefit for the company you chose to partner with is that with a good fit, their support isn’t just a marketing tactic, but rather a “brand attribute,” something positive that customers will associate with the brand. Environmentalism is a brand attribute for Patagonia.

The Right Kind of Help

Some partner companies might be able to offer fundraising help. Others, like in the example of The Marshall Project and the newspapers they work with, might help make change through increased visibility of the problems that your organization is trying to tackle. Some companies might provide their product to your organization for free. Others might organize their employees to provide volunteers. Choosing a good partner requires knowing your own needs and finding a company with shared values who can meet some of them.

“Partners are instrumental when it comes to mobilizing people, fundraising, and increasing impact. But to get the best results, non-profit brands need to find and build relationships with the right partners,” writes Megan Van Woezik on Interbrand.

The Right Scale of Help

Van Woezik uses the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation as a case study. The foundation “engages over 100 national and regional sponsors.” Together they put on a big event, the CIBC Run for the Cure, in which thousands of people participate, donate, or volunteer. This year, the run raised $25 million. “By working together in a spirit of mutual support, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, committed individuals, and caring corporate sponsors are funding breast cancer research, health education, and advocacy programs that will save lives,” Van Woezik writes.

Make Sure the Terms of an Agreement Will Actually Help Your Cause

This might seem like a no-brainer, but if a company isn’t offering enough to actually help your cause, than their participation will look like PR stunt and nothing more. You want to be able to communicate to your supporters and to the company’s audience that meaningful change is being produced by the partnership (see the social media section below).

Give the Partnership Time Produce Results

“Many successful brands have baked cause marketing right into their DNA and have made it an unwavering component of how they act,” writes Semons. McDonald’s has been funding Ronald McDonald Houses for more than 40 years and has served families in the almost every American state as well as internationally. “Pampers partners with Unicef to provide vaccines to eradicate neonatal tetanus in 58 countries,” writes Semons. But it takes time. For your partner company, a short partnership will seem more like a marketing move and less like a commitment to real change.

The Social Media Angle

Work with your partner to create social media campaigns that serve both of you. Agree in advance on language and images. You should benefit from your partner’s social media network. And they should benefit from yours. Together you need to tell a story that explains your cause and makes the link between you and your partner’s shared values. This is easiest when you’ve already clearly articulated your own brand story (for some insight into how to do this, check out this post from last year).

By having a shared social media campaign, you’ll find new supporters among your partner’s audience. And your partner will find new customers among your supporters. It’s a win-win.

Show the change that your partnership has made possible. Tell the stories of individuals. But also quantify the help that your partner company is providing. There is a reason that charities tell their donors the number of cents on the dollar that reaches their real beneficiaries; people want to know what kind of a difference they are making. Your supporters already trust you, so make sure they can also trust the company you are partnering with.