By: Mollye Rhea
It seems the world breathed a collective sigh on December 31, 2020. Many of us are looking for stability in 2021. Yet, following the events of January 6, 2021, we’re reminded that the turn of a calendar page isn’t magic. We crave normalcy for the world at large and the cause marketing industry, but there’s no going backward.
As we move forward and adapt to the “next normal,” we predict a permanent shift in cause partnerships and social impact in the year ahead built on the hard lessons of 2020. Take a look at our predictions based on the wisdom gained from our work with top nonprofits and corporate partners over the last year. We hope our insights will help you develop the deeper partnerships needed to maximize your impact in 2021.
- Partnerships Move Past Empty Gestures Toward Equity Impact
After a year where racial and economic disparities reached a crisis point in the United States, consumers, employees and investors are looking for real involvement from businesses. Stakeholders will demand that equity remains at the top of the agenda this year.
In a recent Porter Novelli survey of 150 executives:
- 88% said they understand that now more than ever, companies must lead with purpose
- 71% said that in their entire careers they’ve never felt more pressure to respond to social justice issues
- 74% said they have a responsibility to hold their peers accountable for addressing social justice issues
It’s no longer acceptable for companies to post a black square or conduct surface-level cause promotions. Equity and inclusion efforts must move beyond a display of support for equality to decision making that drives results.
2020 put a spotlight on the need to refine how to bring a mission to life and address priority issues of equity and inclusion. Companies are re-evaluating their giving policies. We believe being able to tell the story of impact for a diverse group will be at the forefront for partnership choice among socially conscious companies. It’s critical for nonprofits to be able to tell their equity impact story in a coherent and compelling way to capture companies’ interest and create real equity in the communities that need it most.
- Partnership and Mission-Alignment Focus on Stakeholder Loyalty
Last year, we used the term “authentigration” to capture the importance of companies deepening their partnership strategies beyond PR stunts. This expectation will only grow in the new year as the economy bounces back, more Gen Zers with stronger ties to social impact enter the workforce and companies look to rebuild trust with customers. Companies can no longer do quick turn, cause-jacked promotions. Their approach needs to connect to a long-term strategy and tie closely to business goals that advance their brand. Nonprofits can align with this trend by showing how their organization connects to the company’s mission and values specifically and how partnership can deliver a clear benefit to the bottom line. According to many economic forecasts, consumer spending will remain conservative in the first part of the year. Well-aligned cause partnership activations can drive repeat purchases and increase loyalty for purpose-driven brands. This can be a differentiator for bigger ticket items in tough competitive markets.
In our work fostering collaborative discussions between nonprofits and companies, we saw a two-fold increase in appointments secured in the second half of 2020 and expect this to continue. Feedback indicates that most companies are re-evaluating their CSR and impact strategies moving forward. There is tremendous partnership opportunity. Those who identify meaningful intersections of product and mission alignment will rise to the top of the crowded landscape over time.
- Sustainability Emerges as a Top Issue for all Stakeholders
As companies assess economic risks and opportunities in new markets post-pandemic, the need for transparency regarding environmental impact will be top of mind for executives and investors. We know that the climate crisis is still a key concern for consumers. Cause partnerships will help fill gaps and meet the increased demands for greater sustainability.
Consumers will look to support companies that offset and reduce negative environmental impacts. Nonprofits that are in the sustainability space have a huge opportunity to show how they can help drive ESG business goals and develop long-term partnerships that reduce waste or carbon emissions and build trust with employees and consumers.
The creation of environmentally friendly products will not only provide viable partnership opportunities but also prove to be a smart business move for many companies. We especially see opportunities for employee engagement and giving in this area as more employees demand their companies’ practices have a less negative impact on the environment. Nonprofits that are able to demonstrate real environmental impact for partner brands can create new value for companies, employees and communities. Common activation types are expected to include product licensing agreements, messaging promotions and employee engagement campaigns.
- Emerging Digital Tech Strengthens Partnerships
COVID-19 has done more to accelerate digital transformation than any digital marketer could have ever dreamed. Cause marketers will continue to adopt emerging digital technologies to replace in-person events and experiences. Nonprofits who are slow to adapt to activating campaigns online will miss out on partnership opportunities to capture consumer interest and corporate dollars.
Even prior to the pandemic, 55% of our Best in Class Cause Campaigns survey participants identified “leveraging digital strategies and emerging technologies” as the top issue around achieving impact in the next five years. Little did they know how the need would accelerate in today’s environment.
We see these activities growing exponentially in 2021:
- Contactless shopping with QR codes
- Giving at digital and curbside checkout
- Social activations to expand audience and donor reach
Early adopters of social features on apps like TikTok and Instagram Reels will continue to see growth in new donors and opportunities to partner with branded partnership content. The key to benefiting from this trend is to have digital experts on your team or invest in an agency that will help you roll out online campaigns with ease every time.
Equipping your team with digital campaign expertise across channels will be essential to making the leap toward additional digital strategies. An important takeaway for 2021 is to find creative ways to impact mission delivery beyond a traditional in-store product purchase or social event. In many situations, replacing physical barriers with a digital option can:
- Increase participation
- Reduce costs for the nonprofit
- Widen the audience for new partnership opportunities
- Hybrid Partnership Becomes the Norm
In 2020, we learned that cause partnerships are stronger when we work together. Companies will no longer focus on one mission space, and nonprofits won’t look to exclusive partnerships. Allyship between organizations will be expected and necessary. Multi-partner collaborative approaches will be the norm as organizations rise to address deep, far-reaching key issues facing our country such as:
- Climate change
- Affordable housing
- Closing the wealth gap
- Criminal justice reform
Last year showed us that these are larger issues than any one company or nonprofit can solve on their own. More consortiums will form like Coca Cola’s Disaster Action Alliance to address widespread challenges. Private, public and nonprofit groups will team up to respond more quickly and efficiently. As funding becomes less restricted, CSR leaders and nonprofit partnership teams should discuss creative approaches to hybrid models. Pooling resources will prove to have a greater impact on a faster timeline and instill greater trust in communities.