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Partnering for Progress

Partnering for Progress Article Featured Image

Launch a community collaboration that delivers

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) matters to consumers and employees. In fact, 70% of Americans believe it’s either “somewhat” or “very important” for companies to make the world a better place. Whether accomplished through sustainable business practices, monetary donations to important causes, or volunteer and pro bono hours, consumers expect brands to advance the greater good and support initiatives that align with their values. For many brands, that means working with community partners.

Built on the principles of shared values, collaboration, and long-term impact, community partnerships foster sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships between brands and organizations in the communities they serve and go beyond the one-off donations and single-event volunteerism of traditional CSR initiatives.

Embracing service as a valuable learning opportunity

A pillar of The Lacek Group’s CSR initiatives is a community engagement partnership program. We support a selected nonprofit for a two-year period with volunteer hours and financial support. Our experiences with community partner organizations provide valuable insights on establishing and executing successful partnerships with organizations of all kinds.

Hammer & NER—a nonprofit that helps people experiencing intellectual and other disabilities live life to the fullest—is a great example. Our current partnership with this Twin Cities organization and the vibrant individuals it serves inspires us, helps us make the world a little better, and invites us to apply our branding and CRM expertise in the nonprofit sector. Put simply, this partnership expands our horizons.

Finding fulfilling community partnerships

How might your brand create such a partnership? By defining your criteria, assessing potential partners, and navigating collaboration. Here are some best practices to consider.

1. Establish a selection committee
Determining which organization to partner with requires careful consideration, strategic thinking, and a deep understanding both of your company’s objectives and the community you aim to serve.

We suggest creating a cross-functional team to identify, research, vet, and select your community partner organization. This group should solicit input and opinions from employees across the organization, but they should be empowered to act as the primary drivers and decision-makers.

 2. Define key criteria

Start by identifying the key criteria for a meaningful and successful community engagement partner for your organization. These standards will be unique to your brand, but consider the following:

  Audience supported: Which underserved group or groups do you wish to support? Gather employee input on the issues and audiences that they feel strongly about assisting. Consider your brand and industry. Are there causes and organizations that clearly align?

Also identify any categories your company wants to avoid. For example, employees at The Lacek Group represent diverse political views and religious backgrounds, so we don’t partner with organizations with a political or religious affiliation.

   Area served: Define the geographic area that you wish to serve and consider the reach of potential nonprofit partners. Do you want a national partner, or do you want to focus on specific regions, cities, or even neighborhoods? For example, The Lacek Group concentrates our efforts on the Minnesota market—primarily the Twin Cities area where we’re headquartered—although we do consider other opportunities for our remote employees.

   Employee engagement: Seek out partners that offer various ways to involve your employees—those who are local and those who may work remotely—throughout the year. Volunteering as a group at a community partner event, for example, can be a meaningful and memorable team-building opportunity.

   Available resources: Consider the types of support your company is poised to offer. Direct and in-kind donations? Pro bono projects? Volunteer hours? Amplifying your community partner’s mission in social posts and other communications? Your answers will help to determine if your company’s available resources make a good match for potential partners.

 3. Find the perfect partner

Once you’ve identified the values your team wants to support, the communities you aim to serve, and the resources you’re ready to offer, it’s time to find a compatible organization. When all these factors line up, you can fuel real momentum for your partner organization. Here are suggestions to consider as you seek the right partner for your brand.

   Start early: Give your selection committee ample time to identify, review, vet, and select a community partner organization. At The Lacek Group, we begin by identifying potential organizations at least six months before announcing a new partner.

   Get recommendations: Solicit employees for names of potential nonprofit partners. Allow staff to share why certain organizations are important to them, including any firsthand experiences with services or programs. And remember to factor in the perspectives of all your employees—remote and local—about potential volunteering opportunities or team-building activities.

   Do research: Compare nonprofit candidates to your established selection criteria. Use nominated organizations’ websites, social media channels, and annual reports—along with information provided by nominating employees—to determine how well various nonprofits meet your criteria. If needed, conduct interviews with their representatives.

   Determine impact: Examine the influence that each nonprofit makes and how your company can enhance that work. Consider how many people they assist, how they distribute supplies and services, and the results they produce for those they serve.

   Dig deeper: Beyond your established criteria, consider potential finalist organizations’ visions, missions, and values, and how they align with yours. How would each of these nonprofits define a successful partnership? Do any of your employees have a personal connection to any of these organizations? Are any potential finalists eligible for matching company donations to increase your impact?

   Make your choice: Once you have a well-rounded view of each organization, make a list of finalists. Your selection committee—and company leadership, if desired—should carefully review the opportunities and challenges associated with each nonprofit. It’s unlikely every finalist will meet all the selection criteria, so determine which nonprofit offers the greatest opportunity for your brand and employees to make an impact. The Lacek Group’s selection committee chooses three to five finalists and presents them to our senior leadership team; they then review, discuss, and make a thoughtful, informed decision regarding our next community engagement partner.

4. Getting started

All partnerships benefit from a strong start, and collaborations with community partners are no exception. Remember to be strategic and thoughtful about how you launch your community partnership.

   Share the news: Once you’ve made your selection, notify your new community engagement partner and announce the decision to employees. It’s also important to communicate with any nonprofits you contacted but didn’t ultimately select.

The Lacek Group unveils its new community partner at an all-company meeting. Sharing the news in a group setting builds enthusiasm among employees as we explain why we selected our new partner and preview employee engagement opportunities.

Once you’ve notified finalists and announced the partnership, broadcast your news across a variety of channels. Consider social media posts, blogs, press releases, newsletters, and emails. This is an opportunity to illustrate your brand’s ethos and amplify your community partner’s mission.

   Establish a core team: Dedicate a team to lead the partnership activities internally and externally. Will the selection committee continue to lead, or will a new group take over? At The Lacek Group, we keep some continuity while inviting additional interested employees to join the committee.

   Collaborate and plan: Once established, the core team should meet with the partner organization to review goals and to determine how your company can work with them to ensure success. Rather than approaching a first meeting with a list of things you can do to support them, consider this an opportunity to learn how they operate and where they need your support.

Working together, establish an annual plan that outlines expectations and opportunities for engagement. In addition to volunteering at our partner’s events, The Lacek Group organizes internal fundraisers, such as our annual Soup Smackdown, a hotly contested competition for the best employee-made soup; and a holiday gift basket event, during which employee teams try to outdo each other with fun and appealing basket themes, contents, and bids. 

When thoughtfully planned and executed, community partnerships offer brands the opportunity to make meaningful connections with their communities, to build employee engagement, to increase the impact of the work done by nonprofit partners, and to live out their core values. 

Robyn Zeller is director, Strategic Services, and Terra Charley is vice president, Account Services. For more than 30 years, The Lacek Group has been innovating the art and algorithms of brand devotion. We help world-class brands identify their highest-potential customers, engage them across channels throughout their lifecycles, personalize each relationship for optimal long-term results, and measure the true effectiveness of those efforts.