The Reality of Cause Partnership Activation: Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

cause marketing partnership

You did your due diligence selecting a nonprofit organization that matches up with your brand’s strategic focus areas, brand goals and consumer and employee interests.  You made sure there were a variety of options for creating consumer-facing and employee engagement partnership activities in local communities.  It’s a match made in heaven. The deal has been inked and you are ready to hit the ground running with a team of 25 full time staffers—haha, just kidding, you have to squeeze this cause-partnership into your already insanely huge workload. But, your partner is a well-established, well-respected national organization, so they should be able to execute your ideas seamlessly across the country…or so you thought.

frustrationB-WA few months into the partnership, reality sets in.  The nonprofit’s national headquarters simply doesn’t have the capacity or local influence necessary to activate your programs as consistently or effectively as you had hoped. Not only are very few people experiencing and appreciating the activities, managing this partnership is becoming a time-consuming, frustrating headache for you.  This is not what you thought you signed up for. Ugh.

This partnership was a big investment of time and budget for your brand and for you – your name is all over it.  You are seriously concerned about the ROI and impact you will be able to report out at year-end.  You think to yourself “this really shouldn’t be this hard…I’m trying to do something good for the world (and the brand) in partnership with a seasoned national nonprofit organization and I have a big budget to back it up.  This just seems crazy.”

Reality Check

it is what it isThe reality of bringing cause partnerships to life in local communities is much more complex than one might initially realize.  Successful local activations, like community events or programs or employee engagement activities, to be done well and consistently for maximum brand value, often require extensive strategic and logistical planning as well as local affiliate training, incentives and ongoing support.

Why? Because, despite their absolute desire to execute your customized partnership activities flawlessly and intent to support your brand goals, national nonprofit organizations are typically not staffed appropriately to accomplish this – and the staff they do have are already stretched too thin and mission-focused.  In addition, the reality is that most national nonprofit organizations are more like loose federations of independently run organizations – so control from the national headquarters is often somewhat limited.  Participation in national partnership activities can be suggested, but more often than not, can not be required by the national office. Oh, and by the way, the local organizations are stretched even thinner than HQ.  So, if there is not an immediate, tangible benefit to them, it will be hard for the local affiliate to justify allocating resources to participate.

Bottom Line:  Your national partner is doing its best to activate your partnership at the local level, but they are often not set up to do so effectively.  Therefore, unless you take an extremely strategic and proactive approach to overcoming the inevitable challenges, it will be difficult to see large-scale local activation benefits and the accompanying ROI.

The Solution?  In-depth strategic planning, customized approach, relevant support.

After 35 years in the trenches activating cause partnerships at scale in local communities, we have learned a thing or two…or three that greatly influence success.  Without these three key components in place, the opportunity costs to cause partnership activation can be absolutely huge.


fail to plan quote1) An in-depth planning process is essential. 

You must ask the right questions to the right stakeholders and synthesize the key insights into a strategic and tactical plan that illuminates how to structure and execute a realistic program that will motivate people to participate. Need some expert help?  Our Strategic Action Plan Service will help you get it done right, laying a strong foundation for success and ROI.

2) A customized approach is essential.

No two partnerships or organizations are alike.  Unique cultural DNA, goals, opportunities, limitations, timing, incentives, resources and more should be considered closely. One size does not fit all.  Are you zooming in on the details and nuances that can make or break your program?  Need some expert help?  Our Strategic Action Plan Service deliverables include customized Strategy Recommendations and Customized Tactical Plan.

3) Relevant support is essential.

Big instruction manuals do not work, in fact, they are off-putting.  People are busy. They need relevant support at the right time in a user-friendly manner.  If they don’t get this, your guidelines will be ignored.  There will be little control related to compliance to standards, putting the partnership outcomes and partnership itself at risk.  Need some expert help?  INPEx’s customized Tech~Touch® local activation system enables our clients to scale up local activation and measurable ROI through an innovative combination of cloud-based technology, expert strategy and proactive human support. 

Creating meaningful cause partnership experiences in local communities can be a powerful (and valuable) expression of your brand.  Doing it successfully, and at scale, within the realities of available resources and organizational structures can be extremely challenging – but it is definitely possible.  We’ve done it. We have created exponential increases in activation scale and ROI for our clients applying those three specific keys to success.  So can you!

Image Credits:  Balloons, Frustration (modified black & white), It Is What It Is

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