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Co-marketing with a nonprofit, resonating with your customers

August 9, 2016 • 6 mins read
Cori Ready

Cori Ready


Your business’s core values (and thus, yours) matter to your customers. Whatever it is that resonates most strongly for you as an individual can also be your calling card as an entrepreneur. Demonstrating that passion to your customers by co-marketing with a nonprofit you support gives them an opportunity to feel connected to your business. As Vu Le argues in his blog on nonprofit work, Nonprofit with Balls, “Good community engagement, like good leadership or good teaching, ends with people…feeling like this is their project, their movement, and that their efforts are leading to something substantive.” In a world full of competition, your drive for social justice, the environment, children’s health, or education can differentiate you from the pack.

Many small business owners take the time to write down their values but don’t incorporate them into their business. It’s a missed opportunity, not only to support causes you care about, but to bring like-minded and loyal customers into the fold. Co-marketing with a nonprofit can be a natural way to advocate for a cause that matters to you, with the bonus effect of customers feeling good about your brand or products.

Nowadays, many customers have a strong preference for businesses that add social value to their products and services. According to one report over 85 percent of millennials “correlate their purchasing decisions and their willingness to recommend a brand to the social good efforts a company is making.” Companies that transparently evaluate their performance based on the “triple bottom line”—social, environmental (or ecological) and financial—or whose foundations are built on maximizing social impact make a good impression on customers. You don’t need to be a purely social enterprise (one that applies commercial strategies to doing social good), or a B Corp to benefit from the combination of commerce and social good. (B Corps are companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab as meeting “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.”)

Co-marketing with a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization (NGO) is an ideal promotional activity for your small business—you’re stronger together! Whether or not you’ve got some #LoveLocal fans or you’re trying to start a Shop Local movement, co-marketing with a nonprofit that’s community based will raise the community’s profile while also doing good for both your and the nonprofit’s operations. If you’ve got some combination of hours, dollars, staff, and passion, investing in a co-production with a local nonprofit can be a long-term asset for your own business. Here, we’ll outline the benefits of co-marketing with nonprofits and give you some ideas about how to do it effectively.

The advantages of co-marketing with a nonprofit are legion. Among the benefits of having a nonprofit co-marketing partner are the opportunity to live your values, create great content, share supporters, and inspire new brand evangelists. With organizations that complement each other, private sector and nonprofit partnerships can be quite natural, providing the opportunity to create novel approaches to social, cultural, and environmental problems in your neighborhood. These collaborations can light up your marketing channels as folks want to spread the word.

Collect your best anecdotes, and watch the seeds of your co-marketing sprout.

Co-marketing with a nonprofit

Share supporters. Each time you work with a nonprofit organization, you’re connecting with a built-in set of supporters who are passionate about your nonprofit partner’s mission. Through cross-promotion, you introduce their supporters to your product and your customers to their cause. A classic win-win!

Create great content through shared storytelling. Sharable content is key into today’s age of social media. You and your nonprofit partner can share visuals to give both your marketing materials depth. One huge benefit of co-marketing with a nonprofit is being able to create stories worth telling by tackling real issues in your community, beyond the product or places you have created with your business. This new, meaningful content will make hashtags, tweets, Facebook status updates and Instagram posts come easily. People share widely when they know they are doing good while having fun.

All those images and stories you capture can be repurposed on your website and in print pieces. Ginger Hill, Founder and Chief Content Officer at Contentuity360 explained that, as a result of popularity of social media and content marketing, “visual content and storytelling have become two of the fastest emerging content trends over the last five-plus years. According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Nonprofit Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report, nonprofit marketers consider ‘creating better visual content’ and ‘becoming better storytellers’ among their top priorities for 2016.”

Check out her examples of successful visual cause marketing from Dress for Success, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Operation Smile, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and

Live your values. This may be one of the reasons you started your own business in the first place. Here’s your chance to share local concerns like bike paths and shopping local, or more wide-ranging ones, like same-sex marriage or human-trafficking, all while doing your own thing as the owner and operator of a small local business.

Create new brand evangelists. When people find a brand they can believe in, it’s a match made in heaven. People will go the extra distance to connect with a product or company whose mission they believe in. Look no further than the popular brand that started with simple canvas slip-on shoes and a social change initiative—Toms shoes. The brand began just ten years ago in 2006 and is now worth $625 million. Toms’ business model is often called a “one for one concept,” referring to the company’s promise to deliver, for free, a pair of new shoes to a child in need for every sale of their retail product. While it’s not a perfect premise, at the end of the day, it is capitalism with heart that people can believe in!

Working with nonprofits

To reach a co-marketing agreement with a nonprofit, approach an organization in your community whose mission resonates with you. Though you should have some co-marketing ideas ready to go, first ask them how you can support them. If they’re open to this kind of support, they’ll may have some ideas. Donate money. Donate time. Donate products and services. Cash may be king, but most nonprofits need people’s time just as much as they need funding.

Do you have products you sell or services you provide that could be useful to them? Can you provide their staff with an in-kind sponsorship? Everything from SEO and social media to accounting tricks and interior design can be valuable for a nonprofit. Small non-profit organizations can benefit from the simplest of business propositions, from free printing to larger in-kind donations like free or reduced cost office or event space. If you are able to support a non-profit organization in any of these ways, then it’s something you will definitely want to talk about with your friends, clients, neighbors, and beyond. You might start a trend! The amplification will come back to you.

If the relationship continues to grow…

Even small scale co-marketing with a nonprofit—like have a donation jar at your register—can lead to bigger and better opportunities. If the two of you are a good fit, you might plan an event you can co-host. Create a fundraising campaign on which you can collaborate. Sponsor a fundraiser or host an event for them. And, of course, always leverage cross-channel marketing to promote your campaign! You might co-author a blog post, record a video or podcast, and reach out to both partners’ email lists and social media platforms.

Turn your moment of collaboration into a connection for a lifetime

If you’re thinking of a partnership with a non-profit as just a marketing moment, don’t. Smaller NGOs are often running a lot of programs on the backs of a few staff members and even fewer dollars. They need true collaboration to make their magic happen.

Le points out, “All of us benefit more from nonprofits’ work than we’ll ever know. If you feel safe walking down the street, it’s probably because there are nonprofits working on neighborhood safety and providing services to those who need help. If you appreciate all the free art and music all around you, it’s probably because there are nonprofits supporting kick-ass artists and musicians in the community. If you like parks and clean air, it’s probably because there are nonprofits focused on making sure there are green spaces and recycling and clean transportation.”

Amazing non-profit collaborations that successfully combine cause and commerce can be anything from charity fun runs to film festivals. You can check out what some big companies do to market their corporate social responsibility (CRM) at the Webby Awards and the basics of cause marketing campaigns in the Harvard Business Review. Decide what matters to you and your brand, and

…get out there and collaborate!


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