What Do Companies Want from Their Corporate Partnerships?

A great corporate partnership can move mountains—or in the case of Lady Liberty, restore her to her great standing.

American Express was among the first companies to partner with a nonprofit in the 1980s, in this case, with a group raising funds to restore the Statue of Liberty. Groundbreaking and rewarding for all sides, the initiative raised $1.7 million for its renovations.  American Express saw a 27 percent climb in card use along with a 45 percent spike in new card applications over the previous year, all within three months of the promotion’s run, according to Cause Marketing for Nonprofits.

There are compelling reasons why companies would partner with your organization, either on an ongoing basis or for a specific cause. Consider these points:

  • Nine out of 10 consumers say they would boycott a company if they learned of irresponsible behavior among it, according to the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study.
  • Companies that increased their giving by at least 10 percent between 2013 and 2015 saw growth in revenue and pretax profit, says a study published by the CECP, a CEO-led coalition that helps companies transform their social strategy.
  • 70 percent of millennials say a company’s commitment to its local community would influence their decision to work there, according to a Deloitte survey.

In light of such encouraging numbers, it’s wise to maximize your understanding of what drives a company to say yes to becoming your corporate partner.

What do companies look for in their nonprofit partners?

First and foremost, a nonprofit partner that aligns with their brand.

92 percent of companies reported brand alignment as the most important factor when selecting a partner.*

Here’s where the homework comes in to ensure you’re an appropriate match. First, study the company, including its history and current-day values, marketing messages and philanthropic mission—what types of nonprofits it supports and why. Then, determine whether a complementary match exists between your mission and their corporate giving priorities. Finally, assess your nonprofit’s strengths and weaknesses from their point of view, looking for gaps or concerns that might come up during your meeting.  Plan ahead of time about how you’ll address those potential trouble spots when you propose your cause.

A nonprofit partner that will demonstrate impact. Think ROI.

At the end of the day, a business is still a business. While corporations pledge to be a good corporate citizen of their communities, and most earnestly are, they’re still in it to win it. That is, they engage in corporate sponsorships and philanthropy as a way to bolster sales, strengthen brand loyalty, and build employee retention and customer satisfaction. To forget that they’ve aligned with you for all of these reasons—and, yes, for their bottom line—is to forget a crucial part of what drives the partnership.

Showing impact proves there’s progress and validates the worthiness of a company’s initial investment and continued partnership. While numbers lend the backbone to the good news and your partnership’s efficacy, the stories behind the data help strengthen the bond and build affinity among shareholders, employees and customers.

Think outside of the pie chart. Hard data doesn’t have to be hard to understand. Try using an infographic to draw people into your numbers and your story of success. Here are a couple of examples to draw inspiration on how numbers come alive to tell your story:

A nonprofit partner that will engage the company’s employees.

More than 75 percent of companies consider how a nonprofit will engage its employees before selecting a nonprofit partner.*

It’s a smart move on your part to quickly find ways to engage a corporate partner’s employees. Initially, it may take more planning on your part to get these new people plugged in and to communicate logistics and other important information. But the extra effort pays back tenfold. They’ll feel more deeply invested, like caregivers of the partnership—giving from the heart and not simply from the pocketbook.

Create a rising tide of goodwill.

When employees are actively engaged as part of your partnership, you not only gain financial support, but you also get a whole new tribe of volunteers, mentors, advocates and more. Hopefully, they’ll be signing up in droves to lead the fun runs, the lunch-and-learns and the annual campaign kickoffs in their offices.  A byproduct of this engagement is that they’ll also spread the good news of your good works to their friends, family and community touchpoints.

However, before you ever pick up the phone to schedule a luncheon for your pitch to a potential corporate donor, you must know and do these two big things:

  1. Know who you are. Define your brand. What makes you special in this marketplace that no other nonprofit can offer? Why would a business want to partner with you instead of the similarly aligned ABC Nonprofit? Some ways to emphasize your brand and differentiate yourself from others:
  • Through your service area or reach
  • Your nonprofit’s personality, or how it communicates with people, down to its preferred words and visual style
  • Your approach to addressing the issue
  • Your goals or outcomes
  1. Know why the company would partner with you. Do your due diligence and figure out to whom and to what causes a company will give to. You can polish your presentation to perfection, but if you’re seeking programming support for a smoking-cessation program from a company that funds community after-school programs, it’s unlikely you’ll get the money or partnership. Don’t waste their time—and yours—by not doing your homework on the front end.

Interesting read: Check out this list of the 20 Most Generous Companies of the Fortune 500 compiled by Fortune with help from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The Chronicle also has published a list of the most charitable public corporations, of which financial services and drug companies top the list of cash givers. You’ll have to subscribe to it if you don’t already, but it should be worth it if only for the list’s new feature of insights into the companies’ grant-making priorities.

Any corporate partnership stories you’d like to share, the good, the bad … the best? Share what you think is especially integral for a successful corporate partnership—one that’s even worth the Lady Liberty’s eye.


*2015 For Momentum Corporate Partner Survey

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