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Brand Citizenship: A Winning Proposition for Nonprofit Partnerships

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LFerry head shot smSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Laura Ferry

Like any relationship, a corporate/nonprofit partnership needs to begin with a solid foundation of common shared goals or interests to succeed. Without them, even the most promising relationship will stagnate.

Consensus on definition of “brand citizenship”

The term “brand citizenship” grew out of the corporate social responsibility movement that showed that consumers/people would actually buy more products or even switch brands if a brand supports a cause they care about. Those values are the basis for what companies today aim to integrate into their cultures and across their business channels. “Doing well by doing good” is not only good for a company’s reputation; it is also good for business.

Good Company Logo smLeading brands like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Virgin, Inc. founded their companies with brand citizenship as a company core value. They realized that by doing so they could build a successful business that appealed to consumers and would attract employees. They have implemented charitable and nonprofit partnership strategies including marketing, employee engagement, and sustainable operational practices as well as product development that allow everyone to “do good.”

Understanding how to integrate charity and nonprofit brands into a corporate culture requires strategic thinking and sometimes, major transformation. Some corporations still don’t fully understand the benefits of a purpose-driven business model, just as many nonprofits or charities don’t understand the value they offer outside of their niche. Identifying the right candidates for a cause partnership is critical.

Educate your partners on how mission aligns with business 

Charitable organizations have always understood the value of the “feel good” aspects of what they do, but they don’t always know how to apply that value to the shareholder driven culture of a corporate partner. Quite often nonprofits will look to corporate marketers to figure that out on their own, and with such diverse goals that can be challenging. Today’s nonprofits need to communicate a strong value proposition to corporate partners and make it clear that working together will not only bring positive social impact, but also improve their bottom line. That added value also means contributing cause expertise, resources, extended outreach channels and marketing assets.

Millennials gravitate to companies that care

This is a generation that expects companies to be actively solving social problems because they have lost faith in the government’s ability to do so (MSL Group Study on Brand Citizenship). They want to work for organizations that care about issues that matter to them, purchase their products, and be provided with opportunities to connect with like-minded communities through volunteer activities. They’ll enthusiastically help to promote the good works of a brand by sharing it across social channels.

Partnerships That Work

Gymboree, the children’s retailer, partnered with KaBOOM! – A nonprofit focused on bringing play opportunities and playgrounds to kids in underserved communities. They brainstormed a product partnership with KaBOOM! That would engage its customers in a cause-supporting shopping experience that was great for the Gymboree brand and incentivized retail sales employees with a fun, easy-to-execute retail sales competition that could benefit the stores’ local community.

Gymboree not only sold a ton of its new playwear line, it also motivated employees to push sales. The store raising the most for KaBOOM! won a playground for their local community, which employees help to build. This program was a win-win all around because all participants were involved in giving back in various ways, and Gymboree earned itself some amazing citizen brand visibility.

How can your nonprofit help foster brand citizenship with corporate partners? Following are tips:

  • Do your nonprofit goals align with the company’s core values and charitable goals?
  • Is senior leadership committed to support the program? If everyone is not behind a brand citizenship effort, it’s probably going nowhere.
  • Have you thoroughly researched your corporate partner? Come to the table with ideas that work in a corporate/company environment. Share information about your constituent reach, your public relations and marketing resources and how the company can benefit to drive store or web traffic and transactions.
  • Can you engage the corporation’s employees? Company employees can be long- term assets to your charity. Engage them as potential new voices for your cause and a constituent base whose names can be collected for later involvement.
  • Can your nonprofit mission become the strategic cause of the corporation? Think about what your nonprofit can offer to incentivize and motivate the company’s employees to support and push the cause program – especially those who engage at the consumer level where a whole new opportunity awaits to raise funds and build the company’s identity as a brand citizen. 

Remember – all relationships require work. The best ones flourish when both parties begin with shared common interests and goals and the ability to bring value to the table.


Laura Ferry is the Founder and President of Good Company, a brand citizenship consultancy specializing in innovative, collaborative business strategies with positive impact. Good Company is a member of The Purpose Collaborative, a growing collective of the foremost cause-focused agencies and consultants created by one of the world’s pioneers in the business with purpose space, Carol Cone.  

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