No thanks, we don’t want your money: Branding partnerships with nonprofits

Charities today operate in an increasingly desperate world. They are under pressure to provide help—including life-sustaining services such as food, water, shelter, medical attention, and more—to the growing population of people around the world who need assistance. At the same time, resources are limited. While charitable organisations rely on the support of others for funding, that doesn’t mean accepting cheques from all who offer. Just as companies regularly evaluate and plan strategically around their brands, nonprofits need to be just as particular (perhaps even moreso) about their partnerships.

Nonprofit branding: Children in Vietnam

The good news is that successful corporate brands know that a fundamental tenet of their success today includes social responsibility. Customers are more likely to buy from a responsible company, and employees are more likely to be committed. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, for example, is the reason why 60 percent of graduates say they joined the company. All of this means there has never been a better moment in time for nonprofits to get corporate support. In fact, last year in the United Kingdom corporate contributions to charities rose by 12 percent. It’s possible to imagine a time when corporate brands compete with each other to partner with particular charities.

Some might not agree that charities should turn down donations. There’s definitely room to debate that a displaced person, a family whose home has been devastated, and a sick child who needs medical attention don’t care how the intervening nonprofit is funded. But what is indisputable is the fact that nonprofit brands should scrutinise their corporate partners with as much rigour as those in the commercial sector evaluate theirs. Being selective ensures the partnership is synergistic, making collaboration more meaningful, authentic, and valued by the nonprofit’s supporters and the corporation’s customers.

Here are several key areas that both nonprofits and companies should consider when entering into partnerships.

Build connections that run deeper than financial support

Alignment with brand, vision, and values is critical. The partnership needs to make sense to the charity’s supporters and to the company’s customers and employees. The consequences of a mismatch can alienate key audiences. Last August, when Uber pledged more than $1 million to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit with a mission to close the gender gap in technology, there was backlash among many who said the donation was more of a PR stunt, especially given Uber’s track record on women-friendly employment practices.

Nonprofit branding: Girls Who Code

On the other hand, creating a direct connection with purpose is at the core of‘s partnership with Staples. was started to help fund classroom projects in public schools throughout America and it aligns well with Staples’ positioning as a supplier to teachers and students nationwide.

Rally employees to get involved

When a corporation engages its employees in a charity’s mission, it demonstrates that the partnership is more than just checking off a box. For example, one mattress of every 10 sold by e-commerce mattress brand Leesa is donated to a nonprofit that helps house the homeless. Leesa’s partnership with local charities allows its employees to deliver the mattresses to shelters while spending time with the people who live there.

Simplicity rules

Partnerships don’t need to be complicated to be effective. The partnership between Oxfam and London’s Heathrow Airport is a great example. Coin collection boxes in the baggage claim areas enable Oxfam to reach a diverse international audience in its mission to end global poverty. The boxes, which have raised a significant amount of money, provide a handy way for travellers to offload inconvenient change when returning from overseas.

Oxfam & Heathrow - We Won't Live With Poverty

Show ROI

Some nonprofits are better able to show the results of their endeavours than others. Just as return on investment prevails in the corporate world, nonprofits also need to demonstrate their impact. That way the corporate partner can report back to its employees, customers, and board members, and hopefully generate further contributions to the cause.

Finding and nurturing strong partnerships between companies and nonprofit organisations is not easy. The nonprofit must be highly tuned to its constituents, mission, and brand, and carefully evaluate partnerships that will enhance its public position. The corporation must recognise that striking the right balance is much more than providing a cheque and ticking a box—the effort needs to be focused on driving impact inside and outside the company. It all comes down to authenticity. Consumers can easily spot partnerships that are disingenuous. To be successful, brands, cultures, values, and ways of doing business must all align.


This piece was originally published on LinkedIn (30 November 2017).

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