Leveraging Non-Profit Relationships

Many businesses donate their time and money to non-profits out of the goodness of their heart.  They do it because it feels good and it’s nice to get the tax benefit at the end of the year.

I don’t necessarily see it this way.  If I’m going to enter into a relationship with a non-profit, I want to get something out of it – besides the warm, touchy, feely stuff.  Maybe I’m a bit hard, but I like to make deals and forge relationships that are win-win.  So, if I’m donating my time, my products, or my service, I’d like to get some good promotional value in return, in order to grow my business.

Below, I’ll share some of my experiences and some tips you can put into action to help grow your business – both online and offline – by leveraging your non-profit relationships.

My Experience

In the early 2000’s, I worked in minor league baseball for the Bowie Baysox.  Every year, we’d get thousands of donation requests from schools, charities, churches, you name it.  Even large corporations wrote in to request a door prize for their holiday party.

We answered every request and generally what we would do is send along a few tickets or a hat or whatever else was requested.  Yes, we created good will and perhaps a few new fans.  But the way I saw it was we were giving away a lot of inventory with nothing tangible to show for it.

So, when I became the team’s general manager in 2003, one of the first things I did was to change the rules around how we dealt with non-profits.  We turned every request into an opportunity to grow our business.

When a school approached us for free tickets, we turned it over to our group sales staff, who would call the school and tell them about our Fundraiser Program.  Instead of giving away 6 tickets, we encouraged the school to partner with us by selling our tickets.  In turn, we’d split the profits with them 50/50.

When a not-for-profit organization approached us looking for a donation, we took the opportunity to turn it into an event.  We’d offer them a tabling opportunity on our concourse during one of our games and in exchange, they’d promote the event through media, press releases, and their membership database.

By implementing this new strategy, we were able to strengthen our relationships in the community and increase sales.

How can you leverage local relationships with non-profits to help your business?

Here are some great ways to do it.

Be Selective

Whether you receive thousands of requests like our minor league baseball team did or you just get a few, you’re going to want to be selective about who you work with.  Like any business marketing partnership, it takes time out of your schedule, so make sure it’s worth it.  What do they bring to the table?  Do they have a decent-sized mailing list?  Will they include you in emails and newsletters sent to their readers?  Will they offer you a link on their website?

I checked in on a former client yesterday (Osprey Navigation) and noticed on his website that he was promoting that fact that he donated a portion of all his sales to “Save The Manatees“.  Since my client is in the business of selling nautical maps and charts, this seems like a relationship with some nice synergy to it.

I did some poking around and noticed the Manatee Club (as they call themselves) has over 20,000 likes on Facebook and 2.317 Twitter followers.  Then I hopped over to their Youtube channel and found that rock star Jimmy Buffet is a supporter and he did a PSA (public service message) for them.  It’s unclear how many members they have, but I’m betting they’re all pretty passionate about the cause as it’s a fee-based association with annual recurring membership dues.

You might already be thinking about some of the ways this relationship could be strengthened for the betterment of both parties:

  • Manatee Club could send an email to all its members, informing them of their relationship with Osprey Navigation and encouraging it’s boating members to purchase Osprey’s navigational maps.  The message could also prompt members to forward the email to any friends or family members they know to be interested in the cause, or in Osprey’s products.
  • Use Twitter and Facebook to promote the same message, including a link back to Osprey Navigation’s website to make purchasing easy.
  • Create a video promoting the partnership and post it to Manatee’s Youtube channel.  Optimize the video for SEO and provide a link to Osprey’s site.
  • Write a press release promoting the partnership and post it on the Manatee site.  Include a call to action and a link to the Osprey website.

Since both organizations are in Florida, perhaps they could reach out to the local school district and create a children’s drawing contest promoting the message “Save The Manatees”.  Schools would receive educational materials and a fun contest for kids to help kids learn about manatees.  Members of the Manatee Club and Osprey Navigation could visit the school to help kick off the contest.  As partners in the promotion, both Osprey and Manatee would create awareness with school leaders and parents of the children participating in the event.

Non-Profits Get Free Advertising

Ever hear a public service message on television or radio?  You know, the ones that say, “This has been a public service announcement brought to you by the Lung Association and this station”.

Well, guess what?  Public service messages are often free to non-profits.  You see, media outlets have the same motivation that you, as a business owner do – they want to be perceived as good community partners.  They want to be able to brag and show potential advertisers that they have donated air time to charity.

Non-profits can use their status as a 501-C3 to get free promotional advertising in newspapers, radio, television, and the internet.  As their business partner, you get to come along for the ride!

The key is to make the media distributor a partner in the promotion, too, and by including their logo and name mention in anything you do to advertise the campaign.  This is called a triangle partnership because it includes three partners – media outlets, non-profits, and corporations.

triangle partnerships

You don’t have to be a big corporation to make a triangle partnership work for you.  Even small businesses can benefit.

If I were Osprey Navigation, I would approach the Manatee Club and ask them if there are any news outlets they work with who might be a receptive partner.  I would ask them if any other celebrities might be interested in recording a PSA to promote the partnership. (It never hurts to ask!)

When I got my press release together, I’d use the same approach with online PR giants like PRWeb and PRBuzz, to see if they’d publish and distribute the release at no charge.

Be Proactive

I encourage you to seek out your own non-profit partner to work with.  Look for an organization that shares a common goal or belief with you and see if they are willing to partner up.  Make a list of the unique benefits your business can provide and pitch the non-profit just as you would any other business.  Remember, non-profits love awareness and if you can offer them a chance to promote themselves at no charge, that’s a great way to introduce yourself.

If you’re a service based business, you can partner with a non-profit in exchange for some of the same promotional aspects I’ve already mentioned.  My associate Brendan Egan recently setup a website for a church at no charge and has received a number of “thank you’s” and a few inquiries from it’s congregation about his web design services.  The attribution link on the church’s website is good for Brendan’s SEO and provides a bit of referral traffic.


Make it big!  It’s easy to sit back and work out a basic partnership with your business and a non-profit.  But take the time to sit down together and brainstorm ways that are good for both of you.  You’re really only limited by your own creativity.  If you need some help with ideas, give me a call, I’d be happy to chat with you.  Portland business owners can reach me for face to face consultation at 503-890-6663.

What marketing benefits have you received from working with a non-profit partner?  Can you suggest a new idea that you’ve had success with?


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