Non-profits and Strategic Partnerships

Partners are instrumental when it comes to mobilizing people, fundraising, and increasing impact. But to get the best results, non-profit brands need to find and build relationships with the right partners.

Brands in the non-profit sector exist to make a positive impact. However, to make a real difference, they need support. To achieve their desired goals, non-profit brands often rely on corporate partnerships to help them expand their presence in the marketplace and gain visibility, much needed funding, and access to a broader donor base. When successful, these partnerships can ultimately lead to lasting change in the world.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, for example, has developed a sponsorship model that engages over 100 national and regional sponsors. A number of these sponsors make the foundation’s CIBC Run for the Cure possible. The event inspires thousands of Canadians participate, donate, or volunteer every year—and this year, on October 5th, participants raised $25 million. By working together in a spirit of mutual support, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, committed individuals, and caring corporate sponsors are funding breast cancer research, health education, and advocacy programs that will save lives.

Clearly, partners are instrumental when it comes to mobilizing people, fundraising, and increasing impact. But to get the best results, non-profit brands need to find and build relationships with the right partners.

As part of our month of service (an internal volunteer initiative), Interbrand Canada’s Corporate Citizenship team in Toronto volunteered their time to help a national non-profit, ABC Life Literacy Canada, develop a “partnership filter” to identify and select partners aligned with their brand. Our team analyzed the strength of their brand using our proprietary methodology, with inputs from interviews with current and potential sponsors, and a creative workshop with the entire ABC Life Literacy team and members of the board of directors. Leveraging our expertise working with both corporate and non-profit brands in Canada and around the world, we provided ABC with an innovative tool to help them evaluate the optimal corporate partners, and recommendations on how to build greater clarity on their role within the literacy sector.

With a recent international survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealing that an increasing number of Canadians are ranked amongst the lowest levels of adult literacy and numeracy globally, ABC Life Literacy’s focus on adult literacy in Canada could not be more important,

“We so appreciate the value that the Interbrand team brought to us and the wonderful learning experience we all shared,” said Gillian Mason, President, ABC Life Literacy Canada. “It was a valuable opportunity to evaluate our brand’s strength and think critically about how best to leverage its power to change Canadians’ lives.”

From our work with similar organizations, we identified three critical considerations that non-profits need to keep in mind when examining their partnership strategy:

Clarify your role: Are you a Hero, Sage or Maverick?       

Corporate partnerships are often essential to financially supporting a non-profit. However, simply accepting funds is not a true partnership. For partnerships to be meaningful, the non-profit organization must be clear about its role in the market, and its aspirational purpose. In our work, we used archetypes to help ABC Life Literacy define its role in the literacy and not-for-profit space. By understanding this first, they could then make more strategic decisions that will create differentiation.

Shift your strategy:  Do you want to be everything to everyone, or have a singular focus?  

With limited time and resources, many organizations need to shift from attempting to be everything to everyone to defining targeted stakeholders who will amplify the impact of their brand. Even on a limited budget, any non-profit should invest in research to better understand the needs and aspirations of their target audiences— both within and outside of the corporate sector.

Creating a movement: How do you break through the clutter?  

Today, real change happens in movements. Movements are ignited by a purpose, an idea that inspires and unites people. Movements demand new tools, types of interactions and practices to create ongoing momentum. This starts with telling a compelling story, and then changing the way you communicate with your audiences.

The Interbrand Canada team helped ABC Life Literacy think more consciously about the influence of their brand and their future in the adult literacy movement in Canada. We hope the insights we’ve gleaned from this exercise and shared here encourage other non-profits to take the time to re-examine their brand and partnership models in order to create maximum positive impact.


Marketing Coordinator