For 20 years, Mollye Rhea, President of For Momentum, has conceptualized, developed and spearheaded programs for cause and partnership marketing to benefit non-profits and corporations at both national and local levels.
**This post is part of a 3-part series. Today Mollye explains the findings from the Nonprofit Corporate Leadership Development Summit and outlines one potential challenge and a couple of ideas for potential solutions. In each subsequent post, Mollye will outline another potential challenge and solution – be sure to check back and remember to add your experience in the comments section!**
Recently I had the honor of facilitating the Nonprofit Corporate Leadership Development Summit which convened at the Cause Marketing Forum’s annual conference. Participants in the Summit were nonprofit leaders from a variety of preeminent nonprofit organizations, and the discussion was both lively and thought-provoking. In particular, we discussed a variety of factors that impede a nonprofit’s ability to engage in and deliver on meaningful cause partnerships.
The Surprising Challenge to Growth
These days, you might assume an article on challenges to cause growth would focus on ways to battle the sluggish economy or to enhance recruitment techniques for securing corporate funding. Or, maybe you would expect yet another article on the value of integrating social media effectively into the cause plan. However, surprisingly, the discussion of key challenges affecting nonprofit cause practitioners uncovered a much different culprit. The first place nonprofits may need to focus to foster effective cause growth lies within their own doors – on their own internal politics and structure!
Having been a cause practitioner since the late 1980’s, I remember well the early challenges of cause marketing related to convincing nonprofit leadership (staff and volunteers alike) that associating with a corporation would not tarnish the valuable nonprofit halo. Of course, both transparency in messaging and clear synergy between partners were, and are, critical factors. But, with solutions addressing those factors in place, I’ve personally always felt strongly that cause partnership can help a nonprofit’s halo shine brighter.
Growth in Cause Marketing and Cause Partnerships
Fast forward some 25 years, and the marketplace is rich with research validating my initial beliefs. Awareness of nonprofits is strong and growing. Multiple millions, if not billions, has been raised through cause alliances to advance worthy nonprofit mission work. Study after study confirms consumers want to support corporations that help causes they care about. Additional studies have been conducted and validate that Corporations believe it is essential to communicate their community support and corporate social responsibility. Our field has grown in size as evidenced by achieving the fastest growth ranking within the sponsorship arena. And, last but certainly not least, our field has grown in depth of knowledge. In the late eighties one would be challenged to find a chapter within a marketing text book focused on cause. Today there are dozens of books and, in fact, entire college curricula and majors focused on cause marketing. Our topic has matured into a key factor in a well-integrated marketing platform in the corporate arena and a robust marketing and fundraising tool for nonprofit participants.
So, what’s to blame for holding nonprofits back now? Several challenges with internal stakeholders were voiced by participants of the Nonprofit Corporate Leadership Development Summit. Today I’ll address 1 of the top 3 issues nonprofit cause practitioners face within their own environment.
Issue: The biggest issue blocking cause success cited by leading nonprofit cause practitioners is the lingering perception by some nonprofit executives that “corporations are the bad guy.” Skeptics can certainly point to some negative examples of corporations taking advantage of nonprofits via cause messaging, but there are volumes of good examples where corporations are contributing meaningfully, with integrity, to advance nonprofit mission through their partnership efforts. We must find a way to educate our nonprofit leadership regarding marketplace perceptions and realities in today’s cause landscape.
- Much research has pointed toward consumer perception of the corporation/brand involved in cause marketing. Moving forward, let’s advocate for cause research to include information and insights on consumer perception of the nonprofit partner involved in cause promotion. Kudos to Cone Inc for including some insight on this question in their Evolution/25th Anniversary Study. They found that approximately 40% of Americans are more likely to donate to or advocate a charity upon learning about its corporate partnerships. I hope more on this aspect of the topic – consumer perception of the nonprofit partner within the cause alliance – will be added to future studies by Cone and others!
- Another way to warm the relationship between executive leadership and corporate players is to introduce them and foster personal relationship building. Invite corporate players to relevant nonprofit meetings and conferences. Invite executive-level nonprofit leaders to attend meetings with corporate representatives. As they begin to know one another personally, and hear directly about each other’s respective goals and challenges, the barriers will surely loosen a bit.
If you represent a nonprofit, what has been your experience with attitudes and perceptions within your own nonprofit organization? Or, if you’re a company that has partnered with a nonprofit organization, what has been your perception of your partner’s attitude toward you and/or your alliance activities? What are other potential ways to address this challenge? Add your comments below!