With big companies and big non-profits, we often see checks being written for sponsorship rights. This often buys the right to use the non-profits logo on the companies’ products and collateral marketing materials.
While many non-profits are reliant on these sponsorships annually, their members need more than a check to have a social reason to buy the company’s products or services. They need to see a real partnership. They need to see active participation that demonstrates the company’s commitment beyond the check, to their goals.
While the money will certainly help, the company’s motive for writing it should never be questioned by the membership. After all, it is the membership that makes up the consumers and the apostles of the company’s brand.
Interestingly, many small, local NPOs and currently marginalized groups actually have more appreciation for a company that stands by them before their cause becomes mainstream, while they are still in the grass roots stages.
All the big charities and NPOs of today started out small, faced and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and had to get the word out about their cause. The companies that supported them when they were all alone with those challenges are the ones whose products they are more likely to be loyal to.
Here are some ways small companies can demonstrate commitment to an NPO with a worthy cause beyond the check:
1. Attend and participate in their meetings. Wave their flag, and be part of their cause. Let their membership know that you support them and what you are doing about it. When they see your people in action, they will know you are sincere.
2. Discover what they really need beyond money. They may need to make a broad appeal of support and membership from your customers. They may need your products to consume or auction off at their fundraisers. Maybe you can make a call to someone important on their behalf.
3. Take their message to the market. Educate your customers about their goals, challenges and achievements, and how their cause impacts everyone’s welfare. Small tags on your product promoting their cause and pages devoted to them on your website can make a big difference.
4. Use your publicity resources to invite membership and participation in their events. This can be done using your press releases, interviews, and other forms of media. When your company officially takes a stand on especially controversial issues before they become acceptable to the mainstream, you are seen by the membership as a real advocate.
5. Help them with their fundraisers. Send folks from your company to physically help them with everything from set up to clean up, from serving to announcements. Maybe you can provide space or services. Maybe you can get your customers to attend.
When the membership sees your people actually roll up their sleeves and get actively involved, they will realize that you and your company are sincerely interested in their cause. The beauty of this approach for small, undercapitalized start-ups is that most of this kind of support does not require a big check. And small, local NPOs will be happy to get whatever they can, especially in their grass roots stages.
Small companies that co-promote and co-brand build are the ones that will mean the most to their membership, not just “Who sponsored us this year? But, “Who’s been there for us all along?”
So, even if you are a big company, don’t just write them a check and say, “Good luck with that.” Ask, “How can we help?”
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders