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Trends in 2021 corporate partnerships and CSR

By Maureen Carlson
January 25, 2021

Document with the text CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY on a clipboard sitting beside a computer keyboard and office items

Over the last 20 years I have had the honor of diving deep with both nonprofits and corporations to help shape how corporations align with and fundraise for causes. And even though corporations have actively worked to drive social impact over the last 20 years, for many reasons, 2020 intensified the spotlight on these activities. So how has that scrutiny and the events of 2020 changed the playing field for corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals, and how do nonprofits adapt to ensure their relationships with their corporate partners remain robust? Here are some trends nonprofit corporate partnership executives may want to consider in 2021.

1. It isn’t just about the fundraising team anymore … marketing is all in

For years, I have been proclaiming that corporate partnerships, if done right, are just as much about marketing value as they are about fundraising. Some corporate brands do a really great job focusing on social change and marketing those activities to their constituents, but for the most part, corporate marketing teams only touted social good or CSR for short-term promotional opps. Well, not anymore. The consumer is demanding more. Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer report found that 73 percent of respondents believe a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve conditions in the communities where it operates. Marketing executives have taken note and are now heavily focused on infusing social impact into their strategies to both authentically do good and propel consumer knowledge that increases brand loyalty.

If you are a nonprofit corporate partnership executive and have not fully integrated your marketing team into your corporate campaigns, jump over that aisle, don’t just cross it, and start working together. Talk to the corporate partner, understand your partner’s social good goals not just through fundraising but also through its brand and marketing goals, and develop holistic partnerships that help meet those collective goals. The more integrated your nonprofit’s approach to partnership is, the stronger the relationship with the corporate partner will be, the longer that corporation will partner with your organization, and the easier it will be to create new partnerships.

2. Amp up those new business teams

As the collective marketplace looks more emphatically and aggressively to corporations to solve social issues, companies will reassess the causes they support as a brand. I do not believe they will stop supporting the nonprofits they have been working with for years, but I do think they will be adding causes to their key giving pillars, and therefore potentially dividing the giving pie into more (and smaller) pieces.

Corporations have been simplifying their giving for years, but after 2020’s momentous events, companies are going to feel pressure from boards, employees, and consumers to tackle more systemic issues. In fact, 60 percent of corporate participants in a recent ACCP study reported they are looking at new issues to support in their next fiscal year. For nonprofit corporate partner executives, this is a great time to emphasize partner acquisition. Revise your outreach materials to make sure they have a solid value proposition and excellent return on investment, work aggressively to refill your acquisition pipeline, and get out there. There has never been a better time to think about securing new corporate partners.

3. Don’t give up on sponsorship

And speaking of acquisition, we all want companies to support us in multi-faceted ways and to maximize our corporate relationships, but there is always an initial point of entry with your cause. Take a good look at sponsorships. According to IEG’s 2020 Sponsorship Outlook report, “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we estimate 38% of the annual U.S. sponsorship value ($10 Billion) will need to be made up. There are 120,000 active sponsorship agreements in limbo while we practice social distancing, and more than 5,000 brands are faced with decisions on how to recoup lost value.”

Nonprofit corporate partnership and event professionals need to rethink their sponsorship packages (making them less about assets and more about measured engagement of your community), and then go talk to companies about your nonprofit program being the solution they are looking for. Then be sure to nurture the relationship—stewardship is what makes or breaks a corporate partnership.

4. Contactless, yes. Round-up, ABSOLUTELY!

Digital, contactless purchase opportunities are top of mind with retailers right now, which makes this a great time to to discuss the donation ask flows with these partners. If your fundraising campaign is only at your partners’ in-person registers, open the dialogue about including the charitable ask in the self-check-outs, the mobile curbside experience, and the e-commerce site as well. And while you are at it, ask them to move to round-up (rounding a purchase up to the nearest dollar) as they integrate fundraising on their digital platforms. Just that one little change can increase fundraising significantly. According to Julie Breckenkamp, VP of national corporate partnerships at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, moving to round-up with the organization’s retail partners increased fundraising from 30 percent to 100 percent year over year.

Tags: Corporate social responsibility; Nonprofit-corporate partnerships; Fundraising