Those of us keeping track of the cause landscape have seen a big shift from corporate philanthropy in previous years towards companies increasingly embracing cause as a legitimate business strategy. It used to be that cause was a nice-to-do charitable endeavor that was driven by a company’s foundation. While the smart people in suits ran the company strategy, the “do-gooders” invested money in the local community.
Well that has certainly changed! Companies have realized that when the suits and the “do-gooders” work together the results can be powerful. More and more, CSR leaders are gaining greater influence and are participating in the strategic planning process. And when this occurs, magic happens. We get to witness transformational cause efforts come to life.
Case in point–REI’s recent Force of Nature initiative. It’s a company-wide effort to “level the playing field” by placing greater emphasis on women in the outdoors. First of all, they nailed it with the name. I live in a house full of women (a wife and two daughters) and work with 22 female colleagues so I can personally attest to this simple truth: women are a force of nature! But beyond that, I was struck by the campaign’s authenticity and how it is being integrated across the company.
REI did their homework before launching this campaign. They took a hard look at their own past efforts and surveyed women in a national study to understand their unique perspective. And then they shared what they found.
REI had not been championing women and men equally as participants in the outdoors:
- 63% of women could not think of an outdoor female role model
- 6 in 10 women believe that men’s interests in outdoor activities are taken more seriously than women’s
The study showed REI was missing a tangible business opportunity:
- 85% of women believe the outdoors positively affects mental health, physical
health, happiness and overall well-being
- 70% of women feel that being outdoors is liberating
- 73% say they would like to spend more time outdoors
REI’s response was much more than a marketing campaign. The company committed to making women a priority across the business and to champion gender equality in the outdoors. This means featuring them in marketing efforts, engaging women through events, and even improving outdoor gear for women. REI is also investing $1 million in mission-aligned community organizations such as the YMCA Bold/Gold initiative, Camber Outdoors and GirlTrek, because research showed women who were encouraged as young girls to spend time outside are more likely to remain active today.
If you can’t already tell, these types of smart, multi-faceted efforts thrill me. I expect we’ll see more of this as companies continue to appreciate the business value of cause. When done thoughtfully and strategically, these campaigns stand apart – and in a good way!
What does this trend mean for my nonprofit clients?
It means becoming more business savvy as you approach potential corporate partners. Do your homework to understand their business priorities. For example, if the business is making a shift toward women, think about how your cause connects with that audience. Identify the resources you can offer. Don’t stray from your mission, but look at your existing assets and how those could be leveraged. Consider volunteerism, content, expertise, issue impact, etc. And, finally, clearly articulate your unique value proposition and business/brand alignment. In short, help them see why you are the perfect fit!
It takes some planning and thinking, but it’s well worth the investment. And if you need to clear your mind before you dive in, may I suggest spending a little time outdoors? After all, REI co-founders Mary and Lloyd Anderson didn’t start their buying cooperative in 1938 to create a store. All they really wanted was to make it easier and more accessible for everyone to get into the outdoors.