This post appeared earlier this week as a guest-post in the Cause Marketing Forum’s blog, Companies & Causes.  I’m reposting it here as a kick-off to a series of posts about Tēvolution’s nonprofit partners, in which I’ll describe each of them, why we chose them, how we are mutually benefiting, and the state of the relationship today.

Over the past few years, as more nonprofits and companies have jumped into cause marketing, the question of how to choose the right partner comes up repeatedly.

When Gerard Artavia and I founded Tēvolution we knew how important the selection of our nonprofit partners would be in setting the course for the brand’s “cause equity” and establishing credibility in the marketplace.  We didn’t want to merely partner with nonprofits for marketing campaigns but rather partner with nonprofits for the long haul.

To create a company with long-term staying power in the cause space, we had to convey the authenticity of our shared ambition and commitment to our nonprofit partners.  It was critical to own their causes as our own, while tracking our collective impact over time.  And, we needed to get it right the first time.

To do that, we leveraged the skills and expertise of Lisa O’Brien, former director of corporate partnerships at Share Our Strength, and a team of Georgetown MBA students in the university’s Net Impact club.  Combining Lisa’s experience with the MBA team’s backgrounds and capabilities, we created a robust nonprofit evaluation strategy.  Utilizing the strategy, we have created partnerships with four phenomenal nonprofit organizations: Jumpstart, National Brain Tumor Society, Bear Necessities, and Project Night Night.

The selection strategy rests on four pillars:

1. Organizational Fitness

We evaluated the organization’s rankings in Charity Navigator, Guidestar and the BBB for Charities and Donors, as well as performed a scan of the organization’s board members and their reputations.  While no single measure is dependable and there is some debate as to the efficacy of the rankings, these measures together provided a proxy to the organization’s ability to run smoothly over the life of the partnership, while the board scan provided insights into potential political risks in the future.

2. Financial Snapshot

Tēvolution made a deliberate decision to partner with emerging charities with revenues under $50M/year.  That number allowed them to be large enough for broader appeal but small enough to still be “scrappy” in attitude.  Most of our current nonprofit partners are far below that line, in fact.  In addition, we evaluated operating performance for the past three years to identify any cash flow issues, and expected a reasonable but not excessive cash output for fundraising and admin.  While no specific administrative percentage can be universally applied, the numbers provided enough material to pose deeper questions during the pitching and interviewing process.

3. Programs

Here, we evaluated the nonprofit’s actual programs to identify a fit with the Tēvolution brand.  We looked for a meaningful and measurable impact on the people and communities served.  Since the teas will be sold nationally, we sought out nonprofits with a national footprint but local community impact.  Finally, we looked at their full portfolio of programs to ensure that each one fully supports their mission.

4. Communication

Last, we evaluated each organization’s public communications to assess their fit with the marketing culture we intended to create with Tēvolution.  We evaluated their print ads, their Web site, their Twitter feed and Facebook page to ensure consistency of message and branding.  We looked at their other cause marketing partnerships to evaluate their experience in cause marketing and partnering with for-profit companies.  We needed to know they would be able to work with us as business partners first and foremost, or the relationships wouldn’t hold.

Further supporting the analysis behind our four pillars, we also developed a comprehensive philosophy around how we wanted to partner with nonprofit organizations.  We sought to be true partners, not a dictatorial company holding the purse strings, listening to and learning from their past experiences with other companies.  Over time we’ve built real relationships with each organization and the people who work there.  We remain transparent about business practices and sales to ensure they know they are receiving the maximum benefit.  This philosophy of equal partnership is sadly lacking in the cause marketing space, which makes us even more proud of what we’re doing.  We are, after all, all in this together.

What do you think of our approach to selecting nonprofit partners?  If you’re a cause marketing company, what has your organization done to select nonprofit partners?   If you’re a nonprofit organization, what’s your perception of this strategy?


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