January 20, 2011

Finding the right chemistry for nonprofits & business

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How to build partnerships — beginning with cause marketing

JD LasicaI‘ve been spending some time lately with Bruce W. Burtch, a cause marketing expert in the Bay Area, to discuss opportunities for bringing together nonprofits and companies in a mutually beneficial partnership to advance the social good.

Bruce is the cause marketing columnist for Examiner.com and was actually the creator of the first cause marketing campaign, between March of Dimes and the Marriott Corp., three decades ago. He also designed the most successful campaign on emergency preparedness in the country through a partnership between Pacific Gas & Electric and the American Red Cross, raising over $1 million, attracting considerable media coverage and resulting in 1 million Bay Area residents being trained.

“This is one of the most outstanding ways of raising money, raising awareness, raising volunteers and finding board members,” he said of cross-sector partnerships. “It works for the nonprofits to create donations and awareness. It works for the for-profits to crate sales and good employee morale.”

I sat down with Bruce the other day to discuss cause marketing, his recent marketplace study and opportunities for “win-win” partnerships. In this 7-minute video conducted on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, he talks about some of the partnerships he has helped set up, like the one between Autodesk and Art from the Heart in the San Rafael school district.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

Study highlights: Missed opportunities for nonprofits?

Bruce just released his annual Burtch Report, a survey of nonprofits and businesses in California (it’s available for free on this registration page). Such partnerships — sometimes called strategic philanthropy, cause marketing or cross-sector partnerships — are increasing in both number and in the breadth of the linkages between partners. The report found that 55 percent of nonprofits responding had partnerships with for-profit organizations, while 66 percent of for-profits said they did.

The survey found more than 16 different areas of potential linkage and benefit between nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

In the past few years, prominent cause marketing campaigns — such as Pepsi’s Refresh Project, American Express Members Project and the myriad breast cancer fundraising campaigns — have created a much higher public visibility of cross-sector marketing-focused partnerships, Bruce said.

“When a nonprofit and for-profit bring together their mutual assets and talents, and seek to create a greater good, their combined efforts can produce results far greater than either could do on their own,” he said. The survey found more than 16 different areas of potential linkage and benefit between nonprofit and for-profit organizations, including fund development, in-kind donations, volunteers, event sponsorships, board members, pro bono PR and advertising, earned income opportunities, sales incentive programs, loaned-executives, increased employee morale, brand recognition and more.

The businesses responding named these as the top benefits and return on investment for their partnerships with nonprofits:

24.5% Publicity received
22.9% Community goodwill
19.6% Sales generated
11.4% Volunteer satisfaction
  8.1% Shareholder return
13.1% “Other” answers

The most unexpected finding of the survey was that while 59 percent of nonprofit respondents wanted to learn more about the benefits of cross-sector partnerships, some 27 percent of the nonprofits without such partnerships were not interested in learning about them. “I find it inconceivable that when faced with decreasing public and foundation financial support, the nonprofit community wouldn’t jump at the chance to explore the fundraising and cost-reducing benefits of corporate partnerships,” he said.

Read the Burtch Report for findings about the understanding gap between the two sectors.
JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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  • ..Despite access to vast resources and regulatory power that can have a big impact on charity government has failed to use its assets to develop innovative and even-handed partnerships with nonprofits to address critical social problems…Government has proved a weak cop in policing foundations and nonprofits a bully in menacing charitable groups that oppose its policies a failure at creating innovative incentives to giving and volunteerism and ham-fisted in channeling public funds to religious charities while ignoring discrimination in who they hire and serve…For their part nonprofits and foundations often act as if their social mission frees them of the obligation to account for themselves in return for the tax-exempt status they enjoy…There has got to be a better way to tackle urgent social problems…Nonprofits and foundations address the symptoms and causes of those problems often serving as civil societys research-and-development arm…But nonprofits lack the resources and power more readily available to government…As the Washington Post reported recently some nonprofits leaders are calling for a special White House office or government agency to focus on nonprofits community initiatives and volunteerism while others are pushing for greater collaboration among charities corporations and government…Jockeying for influence in a post-Bush administration nonprofit leaders rightly are looking for ways to play a greater role in shaping public policies and leveraging government resources…But nonprofits need to be smart and to be careful what they wish for…The charitable marketplace in the U.S. The NCNA network has 22 000 members right now and we are actively seeking partnerships with other networks so that we can get more nonprofits informed and involved.

  • johnrougeux

    Well said. Another trend worth paying attention to is the increasing blur between for-profit and non-profits entities. More and more organizations are successfully combining the two, and I've found it an exciting area to pay attention to. We're seeing company go beyond arrangments where they simply "tack-on" a non-profit arm to their business units, and go much further by integrating causes directly into the core of their business model. When the talents of both worlds can be combined like this, I'm optimistic that the result will be something quite powerful.