One of the most exciting opportunities available in business today is partnering with nonprofits in cause-related marketing. Generally defined as a partnership where both the for-profit and the nonprofit partners have something to offer and each realizes a benefit, cause-related marketing contributes to the community, while also expanding your company’s network and audience.
To succeed in cause-related marketing, I believe you should select a cause that is aligned, in some way, with your business. There are plenty of good causes that need support. But, you’re more likely to understand the services or activities you’re supporting if the cause relates to your business. You’ll have better ideas and will be a more productive partner.
Cause alignment also makes it more likely that you’ll connect with an audience that may be your customers in other settings. Through your cause-related activities, these customers get to know your business in the context of your values and your commitment to the community – an excellent introduction for any company!
This year, my firm, Spector Group, partnered with Habitat for Humanity in Nassau County as part of our fiftieth anniversary outreach. We’re architects and planners so there’s an obvious overlap with HFH’s home building efforts. In addition, we have an office on Long Island and, over the last fifty years, have designed many of the area’s most prominent buildings. There was an organic connection between our firm’s expertise and HFHNC’s goals and we were proud to contribute our expertise to enrich the lives of the occupants and community that we’ve been a part of for so long.
Once you’ve identified an appropriate cause, you should undertake comprehensive due diligence. Look for viable organizations with track records of providing services and value. One sign of a well run nonprofit is when most of the dollars directly benefit their constituency rather than getting stuck in administration or more fundraising. A good rule of thumb for evaluating nonprofit performance is that 75 percent of funding goes directly to the end users, 15 percent goes to administration, and another 10 percent or so goes to further fundraising.
There are a number of watchdog organizations that rate nonprofits and provide information on them. I’d recommend Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Guide Star as three good resources to help you thoroughly “vet” potential partners.
Part of vetting should include a “get to know you” period, in which your team explores possibilities with the nonprofit’s leadership. I recommend that you look closely at the leadership’s strategic vision and ability to execute. For instance, what plans or ideas do they have for how best to utilize your business’s strengths? Look also at how they’re planning to use any resources or funds generated through the partnership. If they can’t plan and strategize, your good will, efforts and resources may be wasted.
Another key to successful cause-related marketing, in my view, is wide and active employee involvement. I’ve seen first hand how energizing and morale-building it can be when employees get involved.
Spector Group and our team members had a great experience in our Habitat for Humanity of Nassau County partnership when we held a firm-wide contest to create an affordable, energy-efficient design for a home to be built on Long Island. Several of our architects submitted designs, other team members are involved in the execution of the construction documents, and we expect many of our team members will take part in the groundbreaking for the winning design and help build this home. Because they’re involved in it, our team members have a vested interest in the success of the HFH partnership.
When the firm’s cause becomes the employees’ cause, that’s when your cause-related initiative can really take off. Employees are some of your greatest marketing assets. They’ll spread the good word and good will to others, multiplying the marketing effect.
Speaking of marketing, make sure you don’t leave the “marketing” out of cause-related marketing. Definitely let the marketplace know what you’re doing. The more you can raise awareness, the more support the cause will garner, which is one of your main goals. Press releases plus social media activity get the word out.
In addition, publicizing your cause-related marketing involvement calls attention to your company’s values and integrity. It may help attract customers and/or future employees. Generation Z, as the post-millennial generation is sometimes called, is distinguished by the desire to be involved in something with intangible benefits.
On second thought, though, maybe it’s not just a Gen Z attitude. We all have a desire to give back and be part of something bigger. That’s the best reason of all to embrace cause-related marketing: the opportunity to be a part of building a better community.