Choosing a Cause Partner for the Long Haul

by Kate_NFG on ‎04-25-2011 10:22 AM, EDT - last edited on ‎12-19-2012 6:05 PM, EST by Network for Good Specialist

In 2004, Dell and Goodwill Industries teamed up to start an electronics recycling program in Austin, TX.  Since then, the partnership has evolved and the Dell Reconnect program now spans multiple markets and recycles a host of electronics from computers to Xbox consoles.  The collaboration works well because each partner provides complementary resources and expertise:  Goodwill has a network of donation centers and experience will repurposing gently-used goods, while Dell has a proven track record in offering consumer recycling programs that “meet the highest standards of workplace and environmental safety.”  Together, the organizations provide a free and convenient recycling program through a cause partnership that truly benefits both entities.


There are many such examples of symbiotic corporate-cause partnerships.  There are just as many, if not more, examples of partnerships that fall short of their potential or completely miss the mark in terms of tangible social impact.  Mashable recently featured a post byMichele Cuthbert, the principal of branding firm Baker Creative, who provides some guidelines for selecting the right cause partner and structuring a thoughtful partnership.


As a precursor to selecting a cause partner, Cuthbert advises companies to first evaluate their values and stakeholder expectations.  Knowing where a cause partnership fits within your business mission and goals will inform what type of cause partnership you should cultivate.  Understanding what your consumers and employees care about will ensure that your partnership has the interest and resources to get off the ground. 


With the background work done, companies can now turn to the cause selection process.  Here some tips based on Cuthbert’s advice for picking the right partner:


  • Define selection criteria: factors to consider include: size, budget, program areas, geographic focus, organization age, impact track record, board participation etc…
  • Target your list: use charity databases like GuideStar or Charity Navigator to search for charities that meet your criteria.
  • Compare mission statements: when you have a handful or candidates, look for ways your missions complement or reinforce one another.  Mission compatibility will help ensure your partnership moves in the right direction.
  • Do your due diligence: make sure the charity is registered with the IRS and/or GuideStar and check its standing with the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, Great Nonprofits or other charity rating groups.  You should also review the organization’s financial filings and reports on project impact.  Just as in the corporate world, trustworthy organizations are open about their finances and practices.
  • Listen to your gut: if you don’t feel right about the partnership, don’t proceed.  You must have confidence in the partnership if you are going to put the weight of your brand behind it.
  • Try a pilot: relationships deepen over time.  Give your new partnership the opportunity to go through its growing pains on a small scale before rolling it out in a national campaign. This will also give you time to continue your due diligence as you get to know the charity better.


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Companies for Good shares insights on cause marketing and corporate social responsibility topics to inform your charitable engagement with consumers and employees. Network for Good empowers corporate partners to unleash generosity and advance good causes. The blog celebrates that work and provides expertise and resources to help you do well and do good. Learn more

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