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Feb 13, 2007
How To

How to Land Fundraising Partnerships: 12 Dos & 3 Don’ts

SUMMARY: If you’re a nonprofit searching for ways to collect more for your organization, then here’s a must-read interview with an organization that helped define cause marketing.

We talked to them at their annual partnership meeting so we could get tips for all the other nonprofits out there. Includes three strategies to help you land those oh-so-valuable partnerships and three mistakes to avoid.

Plus, ways to reach out to the virtual world.
Komen for the Cure has perfected the art of cause marketing. The national nonprofit dedicated to wiping out breast cancer counts roughly 130 corporate partners in the effort, with deals that range from a donation of 10 cents for every Lean Cuisine meal bought by consumers to $1 dollar for every mile driven by specially decorated BMWs during a nationwide test-drive promotion.

Last year, Komen collected $36 million from their cause-marketing partnerships while helping promote breast cancer awareness. That's 11% of their total revenue. “It’s important to have not only a good mix of products, but also a mix of opportunities to engage the public,” says Katrina Drake, Director, Cause Marketing.

Unable to ignore the proliferation of pink ribbons alongside some of the world’s best-known corporate logos, we spoke with Drake to learn how to land these valuable partnerships, what mistakes other nonprofits make and how to get creative with a cause marketing campaign. (Hint: raising money isn’t the only goal.)

Strategy #1. Measure the value of a partnership -- for you and for corporate partners

Nonprofits looking for cause marketing relationships face a Catch-22: You need to be famous to attract deals with big brands, but how can you get famous without one or two big partners? Drake recommends starting with a little self examination:

- Tally your nonprofit’s marketing assets -- what you can offer a potential partner in terms of exposure or other benefits. Komen has 125 local affiliates, sponsors the largest 5K race series in the country and has more than 100,000 active volunteers.

- Find a niche you can own, then find corporations who want to be there, too. You may not be as famous as Komen, but you may be the best-known Amyloidosis-awareness organization in your home town or you could appeal to a specific demographic that certain companies want to reach.

Research firms can help: Cone Inc. publishes a biennial report, “The Cone Corporate Citizenship Study,” that outlines the top causes the public wants companies to support and how corporate commitment to social issues affect consumers’ buying decisions.

- Land one good partnership, make it work and use those results to demonstrate the value of a relationship to other corporations.

- Seek new partnerships that expand your reach and give the partner a unique marketing position, not ones that duplicate existing campaigns. “The last thing we want is for shoppers to go down the aisle of a store and see 15 different types of batteries that benefit Komen,” Drake explains.

Strategy #2. Put the right people in place to manage partnerships

Nonprofits are stocked with passionate advocates for their causes, but those folks aren’t always best suited to see what corporate partners want and need from a relationship:

- Assign an account representative to each partnership. A lot of Komen’s reps come from agency backgrounds and are used to dealing with big brands.

- Don’t rely on account reps to also recruit new partners -- put a different team in charge of that task. Managing existing relationships is a full-time job. Komen’s reps are on the phone with corporate accounts as frequently as once a week.

- Send staff to industry events, such as IEG’s annual Sponsorship Conference, but don’t expect to land deals there. Instead, treat shows as professional development opportunities and the chance to stay abreast of industry trends.

Strategy #3. Remember your partner’s needs

It takes more than the approval from a corporation’s marketing department to set up a cause marketing partnership. Expect to deal with executive management, HR and other company representatives.

These are complex business relationships. Don’t think you’ll land a partnership overnight. Drake says it takes Komen anywhere from three months to a year to finalize a deal.

Also, keep partners in the loop about your organization’s efforts. Komen emails a quarterly partner update newsletter. Bring partners together to brainstorm new ideas. Once a year, Komen flies its corporate partners to Dallas for a two-day meeting, coinciding with the nonprofit’s affiliate conference.

Three Mistakes Cause Marketing Novices Should Avoid:

-> Mistake #1. Start with too many partners

Although the urge to sign every cause marketing deal you can may be strong, Drake says it’s best to start small. Your organization may not have the infrastructure to support those partnerships, which could end up hurting your reputation in the long run. “You have to be able to provide customer service.”

-> Mistake #2. Sign long-term agreements with untested corporate partners

For partners with little or no cause marketing experience, Drake recommends trying a short-term relationship, to make sure that company understands its revenue model and can live up to its financial obligations to the cause. You also have to make sure the partner can effectively incorporate your education messages into its marketing.

-> Mistake #3. Fail to disclose the terms of the arrangement

Drake sees far too many products for sale on behalf of one cause or another that don’t tell consumers exactly how much of the cost is earmarked for the cause. Full disclosure about the terms of the partnership includes:

o Suggested retail price for the product
o Amount of the purchase price going to the nonprofit
o Minimum and maximum guaranteed donation
o Length of the program
o Where the product is available for purchase

Four Examples of Experiential Marketing Programs

Good partners aren’t only defined by how much product they can sell. “It’s who is best at helping us reach a new audience, who’s spreading educational messages and supporting them,” Drake explains. “It’s not just about money, that’s the key.”

Here are four Komen partnerships that are built around a drawing a crowd, rather than just selling a product:

-> Partnership #1. BMW’s Ultimate Drive

An annual event featuring specially decorated BMW cars on a cross-country tour. The public is invited to take test drives at stops along the way, and BMW donates $1 for every mile driven. Total amount donated in the 11 years of the program: $10 million.

-> Partnership #2. Coldwater Creek’s Fashion for the Cure

After-hours parties held at retail stores featuring fashion tips, a breast cancer survivor guest speaker and a 10% discount on all items purchased. Coldwater Creek donates 10% of all sales to Komen for the Cure.

-> Partnership #3. Holland America’s On Deck for the Cure

For a year, the cruise line holds 5K walks onboard each of its cruise ships while at sea. Komen receives 75% of each registration fee (a minimum of $11.25).

-> Partnership #4. Walcoal America’s Fit for the Cure

The bra manufacturer hosts fitting parties at retailers nationwide, donating to Komen $2 for every woman fitted with a Walcoal, Donna Karen Intimates or DKNY Underwear bra (no purchase necessary). Walcoal also will donate $2 for every bra purchased at a Fit for the Cure event.

Reaching Out to the Virtual World

If you’re a small nonprofit feeling thinking you could never compete with giants like Komen for the Cure for partnership agreements, MarketingSherpa has noticed a hole in the current cause marketing landscape that an inspired organization could fill: creating events and partnerships in the virtual world.

Why not sponsor a fundraising 5K road race in Second Life? Or look for partnership opportunities with online communities such as, or create a short film festival on YouTube? Fundraising is about engaging and energize a community, so don’t overlook online communities for potential cause marketing opportunities.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Komen for the Cure partnerships:

Lee’s National Denim Day Grows Online Sign-ups From 46-72% to Fight Breast Cancer:

Information about the IEG Sponsorship Conference:

Cone Inc., which publishes The Cone Corporate Citizenship Study:

Komen for the Cure:

See Also:

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