3 Co-Marketing Considerations For Small Business Partnering With Local Non-Profits

Written by Merit

April 28, 2022

Having owned and operated local lingerie stores in two communities outside Boston, I know that independent bookstores (like all local businesses) are in the heart of local communities, very engaged with local stakeholders, and active in the community in various ways. Supporting local nonprofits might seem like a no-brainer in this regard. Doing good in the community and keeping the local bookstore alive might be all you as a business owner “need”.

However, I believe it makes good business sense to think about how to optimize the marketing benefits bookstores (and other businesses) receive from the collaboration. Choosing non-profits to support and determining HOW to support them makes a difference. These decisions impact how many new customers find your independent local store and choose to shop there. Moreover, at their best, the partnerships present powerful (and cost-effective, if not FREE) co-marketing opportunities that should not go to waste!

Here are three tips to get you started on optimizing marketing benefits.

Start by picking a purpose

Suppose you spread your support thin across a whole host of local nonprofits. Your good intentions are likely to be buried in the noise, and nobody will notice how much good you do in the community. According to a Zeno Group study from 2020., consumers who think a company has a strong purpose are four times more likely to purchase from it and four and a half times more likely to “champion the company” and recommend it to friends and family. Consequently, “it has never been more important for companies to articulate their Purpose and consistently demonstrate that Purpose in operating, supporting issues, and engaging with all stakeholders.”

You will be noticed and recognized better if you stick to one or two causes – like children’s literacy or perhaps a local cultural organization. Pick causes that you and your staff deeply care about, that align strategically with your field of business, and that you feel comfortable speaking passionately about yourself.  

Consider making a multiple-year commitment. Concentrating can also make a more significant impact on the nonprofit, strengthening the partnership over time. You also save time not having to coordinate donations, assets, ads etc. with many nonprofits. 

Avoid giving straight money or a valid product that affects your bottom line but gets you limited exposure

Sometimes, the easiest thing is to give away perhaps excess inventory (that might not even be branded with your own business brand) for gift bags at a non-profit fundraising event, or perhaps one item of merchandise to be auctioned off, or maybe take an ad in a program book, i.e. give straight cash.  

Doing that means:

  • What you gave doesn’t have much chance of bringing in a new customer
  • You give away your opportunity to earn a margin on that item
  • You give away some of your hard-earned profit right from the bottom line
  • You limit the breadth and length of exposure in front of potential new customers

Instead, consider, for example:

  • Offering nonprofits a chance to host a fundraiser at your place of business or a percentage of sales campaign over some pre-determined period. This could bring many new customers to make purchases with you and doesn’t cost you anything.
  • For gift bags, perhaps offer small gift cards branded with your business. It’s likely to get a new person in to spend the amount and more. Or at least serve as a constant reminder in their purse!
  • If giving away straight cash makes more sense to you, then consider a multi-year pledge that makes a more significant impact in the eyes of the non-profit audience of donors and volunteers. This can be a huge win-win as both sides save resources.

Create a communication plan with each non-profit you support

Agree how you both will communicate your support of the nonprofit to your stakeholders. Think about who creates the content, whether there is a mutual approval process, how often you each post content in your channels, which channels are best, etc.  

“If you don’t have an agreed-to communications and follow-up plan, nobody is likely going actually notice all the good your business does in the community.”

For example, does the nonprofit send a newsletter to their email list of donors and volunteers? Ask to be highlighted as Joe Waters from Selfish Giving suggests in his recent newsletter. “A partner spotlight is a powerful form of social proof”, Joe says.

Joe offers us an example of a  newsletter that features a “Partner Spotlight”. Imagine your business could be the featured business. What does that cost you? How about zero, zilch, nada, bubkes. And your business and the partnership with the nonprofit could be seen by hundreds or people who care about businesses that care about causes they themselves care about. Magic.

Finally, make sure to include a statement on your website and email signature, Facebook and Google profile about which causes you to support  – consider adding the links to the actual nonprofits on your website and your email newsletters to your customers.  Again, the cost to you is likely nothing, or negligible!

To conclude, whether engaging with nonprofits as your business from a strategic, emotional perspective, or with no perspective to speak of, try to keep in mind how you can support your local nonprofits best while gaining optimum marketing benefits that can help you grow your business! 

If you thought I offered some helpful suggestions here, please join our FB community for book-store specific insights related to partnering with non-profits here, or a more general small business <> nonprofit collaboration idea exchange on our social media platforms.

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