Nonprofit organizations have been strategically partnering with businesses for some time to build cause-marketing programs. The benefits are plentiful for both the corporation and the nonprofit, including enhanced visibility, access to a range of new audiences and the ability to build important relationships.
And while the bottom line often is on the minds of businesses when they choose cause-marketing partners, there is also a widespread recognition that consumers now have a certain level of expectation when it comes to brands and the values they stand for.
The same goes for nonprofit professionals—a great campaign can incentivize a substantial increase in donations, but dollars can’t be the only focus.
Cause marketing isn’t necessarily the right strategic fit for every organization, particularly because significant time and resources go into the process. But when you do decide to initiate a marketing partnership with a business or corporation, it’s important to maintain sight of the end goal, as well as the audience that will ultimately engage with the campaigns. Before you begin, ask yourself these critical questions:
1. Are your mission and values in alignment?
For a nonprofit, staying true to the values surrounding your mission is crucial for maintaining a positive image and keeping loyal donors around. If you’re unsure that your cause-marketing partner shares the same values, it’s likely that the fit just isn’t right.
For instance, if you’re an organization focused on saving wildlife, partnering with a retailer that sells fancy fur coats may not be sending the right message. More than the obvious differences in values, you also want to make sure that you and the corporation share similar goals. The end-result of a cause-marketing program should be mutually beneficial, appealing to the broader audiences of both nonprofit and corporation.
2. Are you honoring your target audience?
Similar to No. 1, you’ll want to ensure that your typical target audience for donations won’t be turned off or feel alienated by your corporate partner. Your donors choose to support you for a reason, and so maintaining that same message and image is important.
Consider the product or service that you’re aligning with—is it relevant to the lives of your typical donor? Will he or she be able to make an easy connection between the causes at play?
3. Are you telling a good story?
People intrinsically connect to a good story, especially when they find it personally relatable. When there is the right fit between a nonprofit and business, the ability to tell an engaging story comes naturally. But it’s in the specific marketing tactics that will determine whether or not that story will make an impact.
Leverage online video to bring stories to life, or engage communities on social media to have them share their own stories—user-generated content is key. Sharing an unengaging text or display ad, for example, does a disservice to everyone involved in the campaign.
Something else to keep in mind is that the message can’t just be about the product/service or the cause. Rather, it needs to weave the values and beliefs of the two parties together in order to ensure the partnership feels genuine.
4. Are you leveraging the right mix of marketing channels?
Just like any fundraising strategy, you’ll want to ensure that you’re leveraging an appropriate mix of channels to reach your target audience. For instance, many successful cause-marketing campaigns demonstrate a savviness in social media, using not only their own social content to spread awareness of the cause and product, but also engaging local social communities to take part in sharing the stories.
Consider what your audience has responded well to in the past—are your donors primarily mobile users who tend to donate via their smartphones? Do they engage with email more than direct mail? Do you make your best connections at in-person events? Laying out a marketing plan that meets donors everywhere they are is key to creating maximum visibility.
5. Are you focusing too much on the buy?
Cause-marketing campaigns are about donations and purchases, but if the call to action is focused too heavily on the buy, it likely will feel inauthentic to the donor. Emphasize the cause and how the product or service naturally complements it.
Leverage softer asks, rather than showing a simple “buy now” button that makes the engagement feel as if it’s just a simple transaction. The giving experience is not meant to feel like a buying experience.
Cause-marketing partnerships are meant to empower all parties involved—the nonprofit, corporation and the customer/donor. Before you get started on your next campaign, it’s a good idea to check in with these important questions before you spend time and valuable resources on a program.
Donna Arriaga is director of nonprofit digital strategy for PMX Agency. She brings more than eight years of experience developing and launching integrated, omnichannel digital strategies involving social media, website, email, mobile and SEO/SEM. She also has developed and launched digital marketing strategies for national nonprofits, SMBs and local organizations.
Donna specializes in strategy, marketing technology and analytics. Previously, she worked as senior inbound marketing strategist for Denamico, where she helped businesses establish a vibrant web presence to generate leads, strengthen brand loyalty and drive revenue growth.