Cause-related sponsorship is a strategic positioning and marketing tool that links a company or brand to a relevant social cause or issue for mutual benefit. According to the International Events Group (IEG), spending on cause marketing has grown from virtually nothing in 1983 to an estimated $1.55 billion in 2009.

Nonprofits benefit from cause marketing because they get needed financial help, technical assistance and volunteers, among other things. For corporations, supporting a cause can influence consumer buying behavior and loyalty and is a way to differentiate a company or a brand by taking on a social issue.

1) Assess Your Readiness: Determine if you are business-friendly. The cultures of nonprofits and corporations are vastly different. To prepare your organization to work with corporations, you may need to add business people to your Board, invest in training for staff or create procedures for fast-tracking decisions.

2) Understand Your Value Proposition: Determine which assets/capabilities that may be of value to corporations:

• having an excellent reputation and powerful mission, so that the corporation enhances its creditability by virtue of affiliation
• providing recognition, endorsements or awards
• gaining access to prospective customers of the company
• having access to programs, projects and organizational expertise
• distributing products, such as books or pamphlets for use as incentives or giveaways

3) Know How and Why a Corporation Chooses a Cause: Consider what types of companies would be most likely to benefit from associations with your organization and respond to your value proposition. Corporations seek to address an issue that will be of particular concern to their core constituency. The more money a company ponies up, the more likely they will want a proprietary stake in their investment. Frequently, corporations seek visibility though the media, so the cause needs to address a newsworthy issue capable of generating adequate coverage. When dollars come from a marketing budget, as opposed to a public or community relation, it is likely that the corporation will want the cause to help them reach specific corporate objectives such as increasing brand loyalty or sales. Other benefits companies may seek include:

• Enhance corporate/brand reputation by positioning it as a responsible, caring company/brand
• Differentiate the corporation/brand
• Enhance employee recruitment and retention
• Expand opportunities for employees to practice leadership and management
• Increase access to markets

4) Pick a Partner Wisely: Does your mission match the goals of the corporation? The relationship must be mutually beneficial. Does the corporation have a solid reputation? The relationship must generate positive impact for you as well as them. Does the corporation have a tradition of philanthropy or is this their first initiative? Look beyond the obvious benefits of money, business expertise and volunteers. Corporations can often provide introductions to other businesses, marketing outreach and in-kind services (product, services, facilities, etc.) that are free or discounted. And of course, is the timing right? Acknowledge the importance of chemistry.

Do due diligence to find out about the corporation’s goals and reputation. Review annual reports, financial statements and press clippings to ensure that the corporation is ethical and reputable.

5) Identify Critical Issues: Recognize that nonprofits tend to move slower, need to build consensus and are tighter with a dollar. Their bottom line is social return. Corporations want financial results. Meshing the two can be difficult.

6) Manage the Relationship and Expectations: Nonprofits and corporations have different cultures and don’t always “speak the same language.” Respect each other’s culture. Listening to each other, having an open and honest exchange of ideas and expectations and continually updating each other is critical. Explore what the relationship will look like, how it will run and what results it will produce. It is important to educate corporate partners that it is not always about driving sales in the short term – it is about building relationships for the long term. Get support from senior management on both sides.

7) Develop a Game Plan: Determine the scope of the relationship (paid, in-kind, volunteers, marketing outreach, introductions, etc.) and develop costs, timelines, roles and responsibilities.

8) Measure Results: Jointly establish objectives. Measure performance against those objectives by determining the performance metrics that will help the corporation demonstrate success and encourage continued commitment.

9) Develop Marketing Materials: Cover the topics of how you do business, who supports you, how you are governed and the results you’ve achieved. Be informative but don’t overload the client with details about your organization. Invite potential partners to see you in action.

10) Get a Referral: Having the door opened for you will save time and energy. Scour your networks to identify people who can introduce you to targeted companies. Your network includes your Board, staff, friends, friends of friends and volunteers. Do cold calling as a last resort.

Author's Bio: 

Geri Stengel is founder of, an online education and peer support service which provides nonprofit and small business advice via blogs, virtual classes, and web events. Check out for more tips.