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Idea Seeds: How to make business-cause partnerships a win-win

By Amanda Ponzar

Light bulb This week’s post is written by my friend Ed Martin as well as Sarah Adolphson on creating innovative business partnerships (especially around global marketing and research) that drive profits for companies and funding for important cause-based initiatives –- yet another example of the hot “Creating Shared Value” concept of corporate social responsibility. It’s easier than you may think! Check out their "idea seeds" and article on "Driving innovative cause-based business partnerships”. 

Ed Martin is the Director of Marketing Excellence and Corporate Social Responsibility Insights at The Hershey Company and a former veteran of Kellogg Company, Coca-Cola, Citigroup and Ford Motor Company. Sarah Adolphson heads WME’s Foundation, which improves arts and education for underserved youth. Adolphson has consulted on the charitable initiatives of clients including Christian Bale, Charlize Theron and Usher.

Driving innovative cause-based business partnerships

By Ed Martin and Sarah Adolphson

What are we trying to accomplish?

Our mission is to help unlock the trillions of dollars spent in global marketing each year and drive a significant amount toward important causes, all the while retaining and attracting consumers and increasing profitable growth for companies. No matter which side you are on when you read that, you have to admit it sounds good! 

Business and nonprofits are up against formidable challenges in this economy and yet the pressures for each to meet a growing number of demands have grown.  The NPOs must support increasing social needs and the demand for corporations to “give back” is growing at exponential rates. 

What is the challenge?

For business, it’s becoming harder and harder to engage consumers in a fractured media market where consumers can easily ignore messages by listening to satellite radio and using DVR and Tivo to skip ads.

For NPOs, the funding pool is growing smaller, with foundations and corporate giving programs cutting back on funding and focusing their dollars on fewer causes.  There is far too little to meet the growing and critical needs. 

The simple idea is for the two to get together and partner; to help each other win. 

The big idea

This blog post will focus on how leading organizations are creating innovative business partnerships that drive both profits for companies and funding for important cause-based initiatives. Regardless of where you stand –- a corporate supporter, a nonprofit, or a caring member of the community –- this blog is for you. 

We will be planting “idea seeds” so that you can create your own win/win model in a way that benefits yourself as the consumer, the corporation and most importantly, the causes that you care about.

The example

WME is one of the largest talent and literary agencies in the world, representing the who’s who of Hollywood’s elite. Inside this large organization resides a “powerhouse for good.” Sarah Adolphson is the head of the WME Foundation, whose mission is to support education through partnerships with local, underserved schools.  In addition to their CSR initiatives, the WME Foundation is dedicated to assisting its clients in having a direct impact on the causes they care deeply about. 

With an understanding that companies are spending billions of dollars surveying consumers about products from cars to diapers, to soft drinks and mops, Sarah and I recently piloted one of these win/win initiatives at an elementary school in Compton, CA.  The model was quite simple, but the results will prove to be scalable and profound. 

Women talking We initiated the idea at the WME partner school, Foster Elementary and sat down to talk with moms about everything involving eating habits, how they decide to buy snacks for their kids, and how they use mobile phones in their every day lives. At the end of the meeting, many of the mothers commented on how much they enjoyed the discussion and suggested that we do it again sometime.  They then turned to us and said, “We were told that you would be coming to show us how we could raise money for the school.  Can we now talk about that project?”

That statement said it all.  I smiled at her and told her, “You just did it.”

We had just discovered a win/win that cost my company far less that the traditional research methods and we received far more in-depth and rich insights. In turn, this school in Compton probably raised more money through this small discussion than they could via the usual bake sales and walk-a-thons.

Therein lies the beauty of these “partner marketing models”: it’s a virtuous circle.  The value for a company is branding, advocacy and loyalty; the value to the organization is the funding and the opportunity to utilize their volunteers and supporters for something as simple as taking a survey. 

As we go forward in these stories, we will share other, bigger examples that can be used by you.  There are literally thousands of these win/win models. We also plan to share examples of how the entertainment community is engaging its audience to show how simple it can be to spend just a few minutes of time to give back in a big and meaningful way. We appreciate you taking this journey with us and hope to provide you with both insights and tools to use our win/win models and to invent many of your own! 


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