3 Blunt Partnership Questions Every Business Should Ask a Nonprofit [Sponsored Infographic]

Years ago when I would meet with businesses to discuss cause marketing it was all about explaining what cause marketing was and how they could benefit from it. Business owners were hesitant because they were unsure if they should "profit" from a nonprofit partnership. They had a traditional view of working with a nonprofit as "charity" or "philanthropy."

These days, most businesses know what cause marketing is. Moreover, they see cause marketing as a legitimate part of the marketing mix. It's no longer "What is cause marketing?" but rather "What is our cause marketing strategy?"

Still, businesses are hesitant to ask nonprofits direct questions about the value of a partnership to their business. They handle nonprofits with kid gloves, which is kind, generous and appropriate! But that shouldn't stop businesses from getting to the bottom of the bottom-line benefits of a nonprofit partnership.

Here are three questions every business should ask a nonprofit.

How will my business benefit from this partnership?

There's a reason "Marketing" is part of Cause Marketing. Marketing is the name for what businesses do to get and keep customers. Any time you add "Marketing" to something (e.g. content marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, email marketing) the focus is on how that tactic can help grow your business.

When a business and nonprofit meet, both organizations should be clear that they are not talking about charity or philanthropy, bur rather the win-win benefits of a partnership (aka cause marketing).

If a nonprofit is surprised by or can't answer the question "How will my business benefit from this partnership?" they're not ready to talk about a win-win partnership. Businesses would be wise to revert the conversation to philanthropic opportunities and save the "marketing" conversation for another time or for another organization that understands what "win-win" means. 

How will You support our partnership?

Cause marketing is win-win and work-work. Both partners benefit from the partnership and both have to contribute to the partnership for it to be successful. It's pretty obvious what a business can contribute to make a partnership successful. What's not always clear is what "assets" the nonprofit will bring to the partnership.

Assets are advantages that will ensure the partnership is win-win. On the nonprofit side, assets can include:

  • A large, active donor base.
  • A large, well attended fundraiser.
  • An engaged online following.
  • A targeted group of supporters (e.g. Planned Parenthood's influence among women).
  • A large employee base.
  • A visible, busy or sought after building or location. (Check out this nonprofit's Tower of Power)
  • A well recognized brand.
  • A strong, emotional mission.

If a nonprofit doesn't have any desirable assets to support your business, the partnership isn't win-win.

Why should I work with you instead of Your Competition?

Every industry has competitors, including in the nonprofit world. There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States! Businesses have a choice of which nonprofit they worth with. That's one reason why businesses should ask a nonprofit why they should work with them instead of another nonprofit.

  • If a business isn't issue-focused (i.e. cancer research, veterans, human rights), they can work with the nonprofit that offers the biggest ROI.
  • If a business wants to focus on a specific issue, say veterans, they can choose from a number of different groups (e.g. Wounded Warriors, Team Red, White & Blue, Team Rubicon). Again, unless you have a personal affinity for a specific group, why not partner with the nonprofit that offers the greatest ROI?

A second reason to ask potential nonprofit partners about competitors is to simply see if they can answer the question! Are they aware of their competitors and what they are offering? If they're committed to being outstanding partner they will. If a nonprofit can't name their competitors, or explain why their partnership offers the best ROI, there may be a better nonprofit partner for your business.

These are just three must-ask questions for businesses working with nonprofits. What other questions would you add? Sound off in the comments below.


This post is sponsored by Catalist. Catalist uses smart technology, insightful data and industry expertise to match companies with causes in partnerships that accelerate social change. Learn more about Catalist here.