Know Your Audience: Pick Your Nonprofit Partners Carefully

As the worlds of commerce and technology continue to innovate at a rapid pace, business and operational methods remain the subject of a continual evolution. This is especially true in the volunteer sector. As an increasing number of cause marketing campaigns and charitable collaborations are being geared towards a consumer-centric perspective, it’s clear that this trend will encourage nonprofits to pay greater attention to the nature of their partnerships. With selfish giving and social responsibility now in their element, a nonprofit‘s choice of partner could make or break its success in 2012.

The Importance of Choosing a Suitable Nonprofit Partner

This shift in focus can largely be attributed to the growing level of social and political awareness within society, and it is crucial that nonprofits pay attention to this in order to succeed. As if to prove the point, breast cancer awareness charity Susan G.Komen has come under fire this month for withdrawing  funding from Planned Parenthood, after being targeted by anti-abortion groups for their choice of partner. While the nonprofit has been heavily criticized for withdrawing $700,000 of funding for breast cancer screenings on purely political grounds, this scenario highlights the growing influence that both consumers and donors have on the philosophies adopted by individual organizations.

A nonprofit must raise both awareness and funds if it’s to affect social change, and to be successful, it must strive to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Given the relative controversy of Planned Parenthood as an organization, and the significant diversity of opinion that it inspires, it was unlikely to broaden any nonprofit’s appeal amongst an informed and opinionated society. So it is clear that Susan G.Komen made an unwise choice based on a company-centric focus, rather than addressing how its donors and benefactors would respond to collaboration.

How Do Influential Consumers Effect Cause Marketing Partnerships?

While the recent experience of Komen raises the potential issues of partnering with seemingly similarly orientated nonprofits, it is even harder for charitable ventures to find like-minded commercial partners. Though the growing sense of corporate responsibility and willingness of brands to clearly define their social values has undoubtedly helped this process, nonprofits must still develop an in-depth understanding of any potential consumer base in order to determine whether its individual members are likely to share in a specific cause or vision.

One nonprofit that understands the importance of a consumer-centric approach is the child-orientated nonprofit Vitamin Angels, which strives to deploy private resources to ensure that vital nutrients are distributed to infants in at-risk regions throughout the world.  Aside from their collaborations with various nutritional brands, they have also sought less obvious partnerships with global companies like DSM. With a product range including everything from furniture to sports and general consumer goods, it’s the brand’s focus on sustainability and social advancement that has built a client base that is as vast as it is socially aware and created the ideal platform for nonprofit interaction.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has brought joy to the lives of many seriously ill children, is another nonprofit that has developed a consumer-centric approach to building partnerships and developing its campaigns. One of its main cause marketing programs is the ‘Believe’ campaign, which is now in its fourth year and is operated in tandem with family-orientated department store Macy’s over the festive period.  Macy’s donates a dollar to Make-A-Wish for every letter that is mailed to Santa by its customers, and as a campaign, it is continually being adapted and improved to enhance the experience of store visitors and children during their participation.

The Bottom Line for Nonprofits

Both Vitamin Angels and the Make-A-Wish Foundation have clearly understood the growing influence of the consumer in the nonprofit sector, and more specifically, the importance of identifying those who are likely to share in their vision and values. These types of consumer-centric campaigns also allow nonprofits to tap into the brand loyalty of a consumer base, and develop flexible programs that evolve with each demographic of customers over time. Any nonprofit looking towards cause marketing in 2012 should bear these points in mind, and empower their partner consumers to effect social change.

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