Companies choose to support non-profits for many reasons, not all of which involve public relations. A philanthropic commitment is often the result of legitimate alignment with ethical principles or social responsibility, as well as a goal to be identified with a specific cause or community. Historically, when these partnerships work, the benefits to both parties are impressive, as was the case when one of our clients, a telecommunications brand, began working with local domestic violence shelters to provide cellphones and needed financial support to women in crisis. The program now connects survivors to resources across the nation, and its good works are profiled in major media on a regular basis.
But such mutually beneficial partnerships don’t happen by accident. When making the decision to partner with a non-profit, here are some steps to follow.
Get input from employees. Sure, the C-suite has its priorities and passions, and the marketing and PR teams will certainly need to weigh in, but some of the most valuable input may come from the rank and file. Make your teams part of the process and glean some fresh perspective.
Biggest not always best. It’s very easy to go with a “brand-name” organization such as the American Red Cross or United Way, both of whom do tremendous work, but do their brand personalities match up with yours? And would your donation be large enough to allow your company a real voice in PR and promotional outreach? Ask these questions, and keep in mind that a smaller, “under-the-radar” organization will likely provide more flexibility when designing a partnership. Its work may also be under-reported, providing interesting PR opportunities for both partners.
Vet your prospective partner. This one’s obvious, but you’ll want to go beyond a simple search. And it’s wise to use a charity-rating tool to the evaluate financial health and accountability of any nonprofit you align with. Sites like CharityNavigator.org and Guidestar.org evaluate and rate nonprofits based on their transparency and financial reports.
Partner credibly. Ask this question – is the proposed relationship credible? Is it consistent with and supportive of the image of each party in the court of public opinion? If the partnership is a strategic disconnect for either party on any level, the collaboration needs to be rethought or even abandoned altogether. A big-box retailer may want to partner with a “green” company to add depth to its environmental commitment, or for employee training or customer education; or, it may simply want to engage in “greenwashing,” in which case the credibility of both parties will be damaged.
Spell out your requirements. Once a partner has been vetted and conversations have begun, make the needs of the company known and get the agreement in writing. Many non-profits are very sophisticated and selective when brokering partnerships, so always pay attention to the “fine print.”