Cause Marketing: The Win-Win of Business/Non-Profit Partnerships

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On December 19, 2013, a team of T-Mobile Calling Center employees pulled up in a U-Haul at a public elementary school in one of Charleston, South Carolina’s more low-income neighborhoods and began unloading gifts. The Calling Center had decided to participate in the local Angel Tree program more than a month ago, and called the school to find out how many students they could sponsor. From bikes to beds and everything in between, more than 50 students were thrilled beyond words to find out that their Christmas wishes had been granted.

Financially, this donation did nothing immediate to help T-Mobile’s business and it probably set a number of employees back more than a few dollars, but the long-term impact both on the Calling Center’s word-of-mouth business and company morale will likely pay them back many times over.

The Basics of Cause Marketing

While more and more businesses are partnering up with non-profits because of the broad range of benefits for both parties, companies are starting to steer away from the use of the word “charity” when describing the relationship. Instead of evoking a sense of pity and the concept that their partnership is one-sided, “cause marketing” infers a mutually beneficial relationship — which it most certainly is.

The benefits for businesses

Along with boosting company morale and increasing positive word-of-mouth business, “cause marketing” benefits companies through:

  • The extended network of the non-profit’s followers and other business relationships
  • Increased visibility
  • Event opportunities for mutual recognition
  • Increased impact on a common goal

The benefits for non-profits

And non-profits can look forward to more than just a regular donation. Partnering with a business can help:

  • Increase the available pool of volunteers
  • Increase visibility and legacy for the cause
  • Provide financial support for specific projects and/or events

Five Questions to Help You Create the Best Cause Marketing Relationship

Partnering up with a non-profit isn’t as easy as choosing a name from a list. In fact, there are a number of factors you should consider before approaching any non-profit about a partnership:

  1. Does the organization have a philosophy or focus similar to that of your business? A lawn care maintenance company could support the local branch of the Arbor Day Foundation, or a restaurant could partner with an area farmers’ aid program.
  2. Has the non-profit met all of the criteria required by the IRS for a tax-exempt organization? The process of attaining 501(c) 3 status alone can take more than a year, so be sure to check with the IRS and/or a reputable website that reports on charity status such as or Additionally, you can ask the non-profit for their letter of determination.
  3. Is the organization open about their financials? Unfortunately, there are a number of organizations out there that donate very little of their funds toward their programs. Make sure the non-profit you’re considering is willing to share detailed financial information about what’s coming in, what’s going out, and where it’s going for every year they’ve been in existence.
  4. Do you get along well with the leadership? While this may seem like a superficial qualification, it’s important in any relationship that the two principle partners get along well together and generally see eye to eye.
  5. Are they open to a trial period to see how well you work together? Even though you may like the non-profit you end up partnering with well enough to jump in with both feet, it may be wise to establish a “getting to know you” period beforehand where either party can back out with little consequence if they feel the partnership isn’t working out.

The Honesty Policy

Above all, both non-profit and business should be as transparent as possible about their mutually beneficial relationship. Today’s consumers are too savvy to buy the old “because we care” line when a business starts promoting their new partnership. Instead, explain how the partnership is helping both of you. A struggling business could say that, by partnering with the local animal shelter, they were able to bring in more business last year and consequently were able to help the shelter more this year through both volunteer time and money. Or a corporation could explain that their new partnership is helping them reach people they could never reach before.

Don’t try to sell the public on the idea of a one-sided, non-
beneficial relationship; your honesty about how you’re helping each other can actually help drive support and help grow an important reputation of honesty in business.

Diana Gomez is the Marketing Coordinator at Lyoness America, where she is instrumental in the implementation of marketing and social media strategies for USA and Canada. The Lyoness Child & Family Foundation (CFF) is actively involved in supporting children, adolescents and families worldwide, especially in the field of education.

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