Thought Leadership

How to build a purpose-driven partnership strategy

Strong partnerships, the kind that persevere and flourish have one thing in common: they’re purpose-aligned.

Shelley Mayer

Categories: Thought Leadership

October 30, 2020

Strong partnerships, the kind that persevere and flourish have one thing in common: they’re purpose-aligned. I recently spoke at The Partnership Conference which brings together companies and causes to rethink partnerships. My session was all about creating mutually beneficial, lasting partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits (such as sponsorship, community investment, and cause marketing programs). I hope these tips help you enhance your organization’s partnership strategy too.

Watch the full presentation: Building purpose-driven partnerships that align with your brand. 

Partnerships with benefits

Partnerships: 92% say it's important for companies to support causes

Partnerships help causes generate revenue, build brand, and raise awareness. They help companies garner employee engagement and customer loyalty while creating positive stakeholder perceptions, and building brand. Audiences are left with a better understanding of both brands’ values, a way to support the causes they care about, and feel-good feels that have cross-generational appeal. In each case, building the brand is at the core.

Partnerships venn diagram with cause, partner, and audience circles. Intersection is labelled "sweet spot"

How to find the right partnership for your company or cause

Effective partnerships seamlessly integrate the purpose, brand strategy, and marketing efforts of both the company and the cause. When weighing potential partnership opportunities, reflect on your brand’s purpose. It’s all about connection; Connecting with customers, employees, ambassadors, and the champions of both organizations. When both the company and cause share a complementary purpose, it becomes easier to align external audiences, create engaging experiences for internal teams, and build meaningful stakeholder connections.

Begin with purpose

Putting purpose at the heart of your partnership strategy creates a stronger value proposition for each partner. It determines how you’ll position your pitch and develop your partnership program from strategy to execution. Depending on the nature of the partnership, purpose can also drive revenue (whether it’s higher sponsorship valuation, a more successful cause marketing program, or more donations). Uncovering your purpose is all about ‘why’ you do what you do. Communicating your ‘why’ is more persuasive and compelling than focusing on ‘what’ you do and ‘how’ you do it. If you haven’t nailed down your brand’s purpose, use the following Golden Circle framework, or contact us for help with your brand strategy.

Start with Why, Simon Sinek's Golden Circle framework description: What - Every organization on the planet knows what they do. These are products they sell or the services. How: Some organizations know how they do it. These are the things that make them special or set them apart from their competition. Why: Very few organizations know why they do what they do. Why is not about making money. That's a result. Why is a purpose, cause, or belief. It's the very reason your organization exists.
Credit: Simon Sinek

For causes, leading with purpose (this is your ‘why’) helps connect you with audiences on an emotional level. For companies, your ‘why’ is about more than just profit; It’s your belief system and it should be rooted in something that matters. Here’s an example of the golden circle we created as part of the brand strategy for a childhood cancer charity:

WHY: We believe every child has the right to a childhood.

HOW: We create an environment that normalizes childhood cancer by delivering specialized camp-inspired, in-hospital, community, and overnight programs at any stage of a child’s cancer journey. Our people inspire relationships and experiences pivotal to the healing process.

WHAT: We improve the quality of life for kids and families affected by childhood cancer.

As you can see, focusing on your ‘why’ and not your ‘what’ helps you gain a broader perspective of your partnership goals. Instead of being constrained by what your organization does, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture and align your partnerships with your reason for being.

Align audiences through shared values

Communicating shared values demonstrates the connection between the company and the cause. When both brands’ values align it builds authenticity and trust among internal and external stakeholders. It also reduces grey areas that can undermine support and cause reputational risk. 

Internally, shared values keep employees engaged, connected, and involved in the partnership. If you’re running a point-of-purchase campaign, for example, aligned values can help employees feel good about making the donation ask at the register leading to a more successful campaign overall. Reflect on who is most connected to each brand when choosing your external target audience. Keep their needs and values top of mind when building your partnership strategy.

Healing skin around the world homepage of Vaseline's Healing Project partnership

The Vaseline Healing Project is an example of a partnership that’s built around shared purpose and values. Vaseline’s brand strategy centers around “The Power of Healing.” Their charity partner, Direct Relief is focused on improving the health and lives of people impacted by disaster, disease, or poverty. Both the company and the cause intersect over the power of healing with shared values around healing and relief. The partnership’s goal of helping heal the skin of 5M people is easily understood by both Vaseline’s audience of consumers and Direct Relief’s audience of healthcare professionals. 

Partnerships Venn Diagram: Direct Relief circle, Vaseline circle, Healthcare professionals and organizations circle, Vaseline customers circle, intersection: The power of healing

Integrate marketing and communications

Even if your partnership is rooted in purpose, if nobody knows about it, it won’t be successful. It’s crucial that both partners work together to communicate through a unified strategy, story, messaging, and integrated marketing and communications materials across various channels. Having an activation playbook ensures that both partners are communicating consistently while uncovering opportunities to inspire and engage their respective audiences.

Partnerships: Pour it forward corporate social responsibility partnership with Stella Artois and

Stella Artois and’s “pour it forward” is a good example of an integrated marketing and communications campaign. Through research Stella Artois discovered that consumer attitudes around premium products were changing and becoming more driven by the need for accessibility, authenticity, and purpose than the sophisticated and elite. Their parent brand’s corporate social responsibility strategy focused on water stewardship so they found a partner that aligned, The partnership held Stella Artois’ brand icon, the chalice at the forefront with every purchase of a limited-edition chalice giving five years of clean water to someone in need. Integrated marketing and communications materials rolled out through a Superbowl ad, a social experiment video “Wait for Water,” an interactive installation at Grand Central Station, a panel discussion on retrospective featuring co-founders Matt Damon and Gary White, with journalist Tamara Hall, and a registered “pour it forward” trademark.

As a result the parent brand now uses Stella Artois’ campaign as a global brand pillar of its water stewardship initiative. The partnership also had a positive global impact by helping provide 1.7 million people with access to water with a goal of increasing to 3.5 million by the end of 2020.

Involve brand leaders

When we work on partnerships, we’re often surprised by how little brand teams are involved. Brand leaders should know an organization’s brand strategy inside and out. Involving them is especially crucial in the early stages of developing a partnership strategy for your organization. Don’t work in a silo. Get someone from your organization’s brand team involved to ensure that the right focus areas are covered. 

How to build a purpose-driven partnership strategy

In order to create mutually beneficial, lasting partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits it’s important to begin with purpose. Align your audiences through shared values to demonstrate the connection between the company and the cause. Ensure both partners work together to spread the message through unified, integrated marketing and communications across various channels. And lastly, involve brand leaders to ensure your partnership is rooted in your brand strategy. If you follow these steps, you’ll surely find the right partnership for your company or cause.

Looking to build or enhance your organization’s partnership strategy?

We can help. Contact us today.


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