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Nonprofit Sponsorship as a Brand Building Tool

Nonprofit Sponsorship as a Brand Building Tool

Before I dive into this article, which discusses one of the key components of TIV Branding’s service offerings both for nonprofits and for-profit organizations, a bit of housekeeping…I gave a seminar on this subject for the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber. Check it out on YouTube here.

Nonprofit Sponsorship Has Evolved

Sponsorship of nonprofit organizations is not a new concept. But research shows that getting a tax write-off and getting your business name out there is no longer where the upsides end. As TIV Branding continues to focus on brand building for environmental and social programs, our understanding of how co-advertising for nonprofit and for-profit brands can be mutually beneficial has grown. Here’s what we’ve found and our recommended approach for using nonprofit sponsorship as a brand building tool.

In the past we’ve had clients that sponsor events, donate directly to organizations and other more traditional ways to support community initiatives. There are two main things that encouraged us to dig deeper into the approach and figure out a way to support both our nonprofit and for-profit clients through co-advertising partnerships as well:

Consumers want the brands they support to be clear about their values.
Consumers believe brands that participate in corporate social responsibility produce better performing products.

But the piece of our research that really sent us in the unique direction of co-advertising was a single point that has the potential to derail the efforts described above:

While consumers believe brands that participate in corporate social responsibility produce better performing products, the effect of those efforts was diminished when a company advertised about it.

That means the old school way of supporting a nonprofit organization and then singing about it in your marketing is no longer the best way to move forward. Let’s dig into the details a bit more before we present a solution…

The Benevolent Halo Effect

The positive effect of corporate social responsibility on the perception of a brand mentioned earlier is known as the benevolent halo effect. And the fact that it is powerful enough to make consumers actually believe that products sold by these brands are better performing shows the potential value. Let me say that again…the products are better performing. With no adjustment to the product itself, just the participation in efforts to make the world a better place, the physical product perception improves.

If you’re as blown away by this as I am then you’ll understand why I had to dig deeper, find articles to support this benevolent halo effect and figure out a way to help for-profit organizations start to think differently about the benefits of corporate responsibility. The most compelling resource I found was published almost exactly 8 years ago on phys.org, a website devoted to news and articles on science and technology. The article briefly discusses a study in the Journal of Consumer Research and calls out a couple of fairly passive ways to promote social responsibility efforts: social media and public relations. Remember, the effect is diminished if a brand advertises about their corporate responsibility efforts.

Brands That Are Clear About Their Values

Along with social goodwill having a positive impact on product perception, is the growing desire to support brands that are clear about their values when it comes to social and environmental issues. A study performed in 2020 by Kantar found this is particularly true among millennial and Gen Z consumers, who want to know a brand’s stance around particular issues in order to feel comfortable supporting it. They feel as though purchasing from brands that are forthright about the stances they are aligned with is an effective way to put their money to work.

According to research performed by Deloitte, 2020 appears to have been a tipping point for consumers and their expectations for brands to participate in the conversation about and show efforts to tackle environmental issues as well. Between social and environmental challenges, there’s a lot to talk about and consumers want their brands to show they are aligned with the issues that they care about most.

Deloitte’s research shows 23% of consumers say they will switch to buying products from an organization that shares their values on environmental issues, 42% have changed consumption habits themselves because of their stance on the environment, and 21% have encouraged others to switch to a company whose values align with their opinion on an issue.

Nonprofit Brand Building

The biggest challenge we face when working with nonprofit organizations is that they are often times singularly focused on the good work they do. That means efforts to build their organization’s brand can be an afterthought. Unfortunately, while an organization may thrive initially even without brand building efforts, eventually the time comes when brand building, likely done three or more years earlier, would benefit them greatly. This is typically when they need an influx of donations, clients, or have another need for people to engage.

This is part of what makes co-advertising so powerful. The for-profit business that is sponsoring the brand building campaign is able to provide a service that the nonprofit may otherwise not prioritize. It’s like someone handing you your vitamins and a glass of water every night before bed. Why wouldn’t you do something that’s known to build a better future?


You may be asking yourself, “How, then, can I support a cause that I care about and also benefit from the positive brand building opportunities that this sort of support offers?” The answer is fairly simple: Keep the focus on the nonprofit, but position the for-profit business as supporting the brand building efforts.

Co-advertising can be used across many channels, but we have had a particularly good amount of success recently using YouTube and Google as an advertising platform for our environmental and social campaigns. We’ve been able to get millions of eyeballs on powerful videos and ads that promote the causes we all care so much about. If each of those videos ends with “powered by your business” and each ad drives to a landing page that includes “powered by your business” the benevolent halo effect remains intact, you’ve associated yourself with a solution to tackle an issue, and you’ve supported the building of a nonprofit brand. It’s a win, win…win?

An Example

As simple and straightforward as this slight pivot in approach actually is, it takes a moment to really get. Here’s an example of how a co-advertising campaign could look. This is just a pretend co-advertising example because, although we did do this campaign work, Streets to Creeks is a campaign sponsored by the City of Santa Rosa and the Russian River Watershed Association. However, if we were to sponsor this campaign, this is how it might look:

In the end, you’re getting the message and the name of the nonprofit out there into the world. That alone is powerful. But there’s nothing wrong with benefitting your for-profit business at the same time. Ultimately if the motivation is pure, your audience will know it. And that’s what is going to keep the benefits of using nonprofit brand building an effective marketing channel for your business.