A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Engage for Good conference (formerly known as the Cause Marketing Forum conference), which is focused on creating partnerships between brands and nonprofits. Blue State typically works with brands on their strategy and communications, and help causes with advocacy and fundraising. So the opportunity to think about how these two sectors can work together and learn from each other was exciting.

It’s always reinvigorating to take a step back and have a discussion with other players in the social good space. This year, I left the conference with a few specific takeaways on how brands and nonprofits can beef up their efforts to do well by doing good.

Be true to thine self

The speakers and panels featured some super interesting conversations about partnerships. The attendees agreed that authenticity is paramount when it comes to brands picking the right partners. But it goes beyond partnerships: Authenticity helps people connect with your product and get excited about the work you’re doing. Pick a campaign, goal, or issue that’s relevant to who you are. For The Body Shop Canada, that goal was ending the testing of cosmetic products on animals. But your social good efforts don’t necessarily need to be tied to your organization’s origin story: JetBlue found a way to participate in relief efforts after last year’s disastrous hurricane season by deploying crewmembers and pre-packed meals to help those affected.

When one panel discussed how nonprofits should apply for corporate grants, the takeaway was similar: They stressed the importance of honesty and vulnerability. Be clear about your strengths and don’t pretend you do things you don’t (a principle we also use in online fundraising).

But this applies to brands, too: when financial services firm Edward Jones saw their customer base aging, they realized that Alzheimer’s Disease was a threat both to people everywhere and to the firm’s ability to help customers manage their assets. The company’s decision to sponsor the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and create the Edward Jones Alzheimer’s Research Fund, therefore, was authentic and true to their brand. And their audience responded:

Go all in

The Body Shop Canada has been incredibly successful in their pursuit to stop animal testing. This is due in part to the fact that they invest in company-wide campaigns, because they want to make real impact. Their advocacy work is the real deal: They train store staff, have presented signature campaigns to Canadian MPs, and give customers activist toolkits.

Similarly, REI, long known as a “brand with purpose,” walks the walk when it comes to their crusade to promote women leaders. They join a host of organizations doing great work in elevating women, but I love the way they’ve explicitly and publicly invested in this goal. If you’re going to attach a socially positive mission to your organization, put some resources behind it. If a CSR campaign is launched and nobody hears about it, does it really make an impact?

Howdy, (corporate) partners

Finally, marketers also stressed how important it is for nonprofits to have a strong web presence. When researching potential partners, many marketers head to organizations’ websites to research whether or not they would be a good fit. In fact, many brands who spoke at the conference said they ended up reaching out to their nonprofit partners directly through their site. The lesson here is is that nonprofits should consider potential corporate partners as a target audience when building or refurbishing their site. In fact, one great way for nonprofits to communicate their impact to potential partners is, perhaps obviously, an impact report.

Your social good efforts can work harder for you

Overall, brands and nonprofits, whether they’re working together or separately, are crucial forces for good in today’s world. But with so much noise and competition, only the most authentic and relevant campaigns will be able to motivate audiences to take action. For nonprofits, having corporate partners talk publicly about their work with their organization will help elevate your brand awareness. For brands, consumers love knowing the company that makes their favorite products also cares about doing good in the world — and that can increase brand loyalty.

Are you a nonprofit or brand making the world a better place? We might have a lot in common — let’s talk about it.


2018 Fundraising Insights Report | Blue State Digital