In a marketing climate that increasingly demands brand authenticity as well as more socially aware brand engagement, are we entering a phase where client, agency and most importantly, customer, is less willing to give no-strings-attached cash towards Corporate Social Investment (CSI) projects?
Non-profits require meaningful marketing
Ubuntu. This particularly African term refers to the ability to value the good of the community above self-interest, and has formed a foundational philosophy for all areas of South African life. While Ubuntu is more frequently associated with individual actions, it permeates our corporate culture through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives many of which are not recognised for the good work they do.
With so many needy organisations and charities, South African corporates have a multitude of causes to choose from, many of which are themselves under-publicised. And while CSR, if done in the spirit of Ubuntu, is not about self-promotion, the public profiles of both donors and causes are essential to matching the two.
According to Sandi Brown, MD of marketing specialist CoAlliance, non-profit organisations often battle to find the right corporate sponsors as a result of the number or worthy causes available for CSR spend, and because many focus on doing their good work rather than marketing themselves, tend to get lost in the public eye. When dealing with sponsorships, multiple hats have to be worn: salesman, educator, and marketing professional who is able to see the benefits that can be afforded. Many non-profits have never had to sell sponsorship, and many dont have marketing resources or departments or staff to manage the business relationships that are required.
She adds that corporate marketers seeks partner brands that have the ability to raise their own brands by association, as well as foster loyalty and turn stakeholders into ambassadors. This is the foundation of what she terms meaningful marketing.
To become an organisation poised to take advantage of the shift to meaningful marketing, a non-profit must reposition itself in the partnership marketplace. To meet the new demands of companies and brands, it must answer certain questions. Does the organisations brand have high equity? Can it easily convey its brand strength and value to prospective partners? Are its various units unified under a single, strong brand or do they have separate identities not easily recognised as part of the whole?
Brown says that every non-profit must recognise its brand as a strategic asset that defines the organisation for all stakeholders and directly impacts the value of its corporate partnerships. The brand should be at the core of the organisation, with everyone involved committed to understanding, articulating and managing it. Understanding the brand and being able to communicate its positioning and impact is an important step in transitioning the relationship between non-profit and corporation from one-dimensional and transactional to the more dynamic and profitable model of a partnership in which each party delivers value to the other and has a stake in the others success.
In other words, meaningful marketing requires partnerships with non-profits that understand the meaning and worth of their brands and practice all the elements of good brand management, including conducting and responding to research into audience and stakeholder attitudes, and developing strategic marketing campaigns that differentiate their organisation.
Meaningful marketing requires non-profits to commit to working with businesses in ways that are different to their current approaches to such relationships. The cause has to see the bigger picture of the corporate sponsor/company, and non-profits need to work more holistically and more in-line with the sponsors overall brand objectives. This certainly doesnt spell doom and gloom for the relationships that are currently based on philanthropic ideals. Rather it marks an opportunity for non-profits to realise the full potential of their corporate relationships and take a major step forward, says Brown.
CoAlliance has therefore set out to assist non-profits in making the move to meaningful marketing. The company works with these organisations to launch sponsorship or partnership programmes, doing all the legwork including dealing with sponsorship opportunities, establishing sponsorship levels and packages, and creating a sales strategy before approaching any potential sponsors.
We communicate with prospects, showing what the non-profit could do through specific promotional ideas. Instead of going into a meeting with the mindset of selling something or taking
Money, we offer the opportunity of a marketing agency working for them. We can educate the business on the benefits of working with a non-profit agency, and will invest time in researching and speaking to these companies to find out what their goals are. Once we have determined this, we can find unique opportunities of how to align our benefits with their goals, Brown explains.
Non-profit brands need to create identifiable cause platforms that target audiences will understand and remember. Meaningful marketing is a trend just starting to gain traction, with many more companies poised to adopt it as their central approach to partnering with non-profits.
John Jensen is a former vice president of development for the National Wildlife Foundation. He's a certified financial planner and a planned-giving consultant in the Washington area. This article has been adapted from a speech he gave.
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