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Entrepreneurs: In Cause Marketing You’re the Pretty Girl

Yesterday’s post hinted at a way nonprofits might identify entrepreneurs open to the idea of cause marketing. Today I want to suggest what a entrepreneur might look for in a cause partner.

There are at least 1.5 million 501(c)(3)s nonprofits in the United States. The term 501(c)(3) means that they can offer tax deductibility to their donors. Of those, less than 160,000 take in $1 million or more in revenue. A little more than half of that 1.5 million take in $100,000 or less.

Yesterday I mentioned that according to Census figures there are some 6 million firms in the United States with employees. In other words, there are a couple of businesses for every nonprofit charity.

Yet, despite that fact, to a cause looking for money businesses are like the pretty girl at the party. And if you’re a business with a charitable inclination you’re like Sofia Vergara pretty!

So how do you decide from among the suitors?

One option, of course, is that you don’t decide. That is, that you have relationships with many causes. The only thing wrong with that is that you miss out on the benefits of monogamy.

If polyandry’s not your style, what should you look for in a suitor?

A full list could be quite long, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to suggest just the three most important:
  • Good, clear marketing positioning.
  • Genuine willingness to support the partnership you’re going to build together.
  • Strong leadership.
Strong leadership, of course, is rare anywhere. But it’s probably more so in the nonprofit than the for-profit sector. There’s reasons for this: the idea of really professional leadership is no more than two generations old in nonprofits. Before 1960 there just wasn’t any professional management to speak of outside of certain hospitals and universities. Even now, 50 years later, the most talented managers are always going to be better compensated in the for-profit sector. Finally, the very cultures of nonprofits all but demand consensus, something not every manager can abide with.

All nonprofits want your money and maybe your time. But not all of them really want a partner. To extend the pretty girl analogy, many of them are more interested in hooking up than getting hitched. There’s reasons for that, none the least of which is they’re worried about what kind of partner you’re likely to be.

Lastly, a big part of what the nonprofit is going to ask you to do is to activate or promote the sponsorship. And you’re going to bear most of the cost for that activation. Cause marketing is a form of co-branding. And co-branding is a whole lot easier if your partner is well known or at least easy to understand. You don’t want a partner whose mission you have to take extra pains to describe or explain. Ergo, a cause that has carefully defined its positioning in the marketplace is something to treasure.

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