Powerful Partnerships: Nonprofits and Cause Marketing

Has your nonprofit dabbled in the world of business sponsorships? Perhaps you reached out to a local coffee shop and asked them to provide funding for your annual event in exchange for including their name and logo on event flyers and signs.

Cause marketing is similar to this mutually beneficial relationship, but it takes the partnership to the next level. Instead of collaborating on a single event, your nonprofit and its corporate partner merge marketing strategies for an entire campaign to spread awareness of your cause.

In this guide, we’ll explore the basics of cause marketing and best practices that will lead to a successful campaign:

  • What is cause marketing?
  • How can organizations get started with cause marketing?
  • What are some best practices for successful cause marketing?

In addition to helping your nonprofit get donations and spreading awareness of your cause, this marketing strategy has the added benefit of building relationships with external parties. As your organization strengthens those relationships, you can create a network of partner companies that are willing to support your nonprofit with other initiatives like sponsorships, in-kind donations, matching gifts, and volunteer grants.

Let’s get started by walking through the main objectives of cause marketing and a real example of an effective campaign.

What is cause marketing?

Cause marketing typically involves a partnership or collaboration between a commercial entity and a nonprofit organization or other charitable cause. As technology evolves, the category of “commercial entity” expands. Rather than being limited to traditional businesses (e.g., corporations, restaurants, or retailers), your nonprofit could work with influencers, web shows or podcasts, online-only brands and businesses, and more.

The main goal of this marketing strategy is to benefit both the commercial entity and the charitable organization. The nonprofit will embed purpose-driven communications into its marketing materials in order to spread awareness and drive revenue. The partnership benefits the commercial business by strengthening its reputation as a socially responsible company and, oftentimes, yielding profits.

Let’s look at an example of a real, successful cause marketing partnership.

Popular, food-focused YouTube channels Mythical Kitchen, Binging with Babish, and First We Feast partnered with the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation to promote the Foundation’s cause: to transform the hospitality industry into an equitable workplace with sustainable pay, viable career paths, and a mental health support system for employees. The marketing campaign consisted of a social media challenge that prompted users to create meals from the leftovers in their fridges, post about the meal using the campaign hashtag, and make a donation.

How can organizations get started with cause marketing?

Getting started with cause marketing should be an exciting process—you’re making new relationships that could help you achieve ambitious fundraising goals and reach untapped audiences. But, it’s also important to take certain steps to foster healthy, long-term business relationships.

Before kicking off a campaign, consider taking these actions:

  • Carefully select a partner. The business partner you choose should complement your nonprofit’s mission, vision, and goals. Take a look at the business’s website and marketing materials to understand its central purpose and values. Do they align with yours, or are there some conflicts? Before committing to a collaborative campaign, meet with the potential partner and ask specific questions about their values and why they want to enter a partnership with you.
  • Set shared goals. A cause marketing campaign should benefit both parties, so it’s essential to clearly identify the goals that will help each contributor achieve success. For example, your business partner may want to increase traffic to their website by 5% and see a profit of $50,000 from the merchandise at the center of the campaign. Similarly, your nonprofit may set a goal of recruiting 200 new donors and increasing revenue by 15%. Both organizations should work to help the other achieve these goals.
  • Hone your storytelling skills. Stress to your partners the importance of telling a story about your mission, cause, and the work you do to support beneficiaries. Lay out any preferences you have for how you’d like your organization and its work to be represented in promotional materials, and provide necessary materials like testimonials, impact stories,  your brand guide and logo, and image files. Additionally, ask your partner organization for similar resources so you can include them in your marketing materials.
  • Remain transparent. Emphasize the importance of clear, open communication between both parties. Your nonprofit and the commercial business should both honestly convey their intentions, how the partnership will be executed, and, eventually, the results of your campaign.

Because these partnerships involve external parties, specific terms, and the exchange of money, it’s best to have a contract. Consult a lawyer to draft or review contracts so that everything goes smoothly and relationships remain positive.

What are some best practices for successful cause marketing?

Once your nonprofit forms a partnership with a business with shared values and goals, it’s time to start strategizing your campaign’s success. Because the campaign is shared between two entities and will likely have different goals than your nonprofit’s usual marketing and fundraising campaigns, you’ll need to take a slightly different approach.

Here are some strategies that will help you meet your shared goals:

  • Leverage digital platforms. Digital marketing allows you to reach broader audiences, amplifying the message behind your partnership. Create custom graphics to share on your website and social media pages that highlight your partnership by including logos from both organizations. Additionally, you can spread awareness of the partnership on search engines by following SEO best practices when creating pages or blogs about the campaign.
  • Create “win-win” promotions. As you develop the structure and strategies for your campaign, remember that everything should help further both your mission as well as your partner’s goals (e.g., increasing profits). Promote your partnership in a way that adds value to the business while also sharing information about your cause and motivating supporters to get involved. For example, you might follow the percentage-of-sales donation structure such as your nonprofit receiving 5% of every product sale.
  • Track campaign performance. When revenue and engagement are coming in from so many sources, it can be difficult to measure performance. It’s essential to develop an attribution strategy before the campaign starts so you know how supporters/customers learned about your campaign, what drove them to engage, and how they chose to engage. Then, you and your partner can accurately analyze your results to improve future efforts.

These are just a few ways you can help align your nonprofit’s and your partner’s goals and best interests. As you launch more cause marketing campaigns, continue to develop your strategies to find the best balance and identify those that resonate most with your audience.

Through cause marketing, your nonprofit can extend its reach to brand-new audiences, increase fundraising revenue, and cultivate a network of fruitful business partnerships. Getting these campaigns off the ground by uniting your goals and aligning on the focus of each campaign will ensure that you build business relationships that are healthy, transparent, and built to last.