You can learn a lot from Adam Braun. Adam is the founder of an organization called Pencils of Promise (PoP). They build schools. Since 2008, Adam and his team have built 200 schools all over the world. But PoP is so much more than concrete walls, floors and chalkboards. The schools are a powerful means to end hopelessness, illiteracy and ignorance.
The impressive impact of PoP has made the organization a darling of corporate partners that are drawn to the sweet smell of success. These companies include Uber, Warby Parker, Chegg and The Motley Fool to name a few.
I recently spoke to Adam about PoP. There are some important lessons we can draw from Pencils of Promise’s success to guide your own cause marketing efforts.
YOU’RE NOT A NONPROFIT, YOU ARE FOR-PURPOSE
“Nonprofit is a tax status,” explained Adam. “It doesn’t say what you do, or what you are trying to accomplish. That’s why I prefer For-Purpose.” The basis for everything that Adam has done, or will do, is grounded in having some real and measurable impact in the world. Regardless of whether your organization is a year old, or just celebrated its centennial, your goal is to positively impact the world. If you’re not, people and businesses won’t flock to your banner.
Build a strong foundation of impact – or shore up the one you have. Because everything else you do – or hope to do – depends on it, including corporate partnerships.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Adam has spent most of his life getting out of his comfort zone, and he’s reaped the rewards of it. He discovered the need for PoP while backpacking around the world. Next, he traded his backpack for a suit and went to work for Bain Investments where he learned how successful businesses are built. Adam combined passion with acumen and started PoP in 2008.
To promote PoP’s work, Adam pushed the envelope further when he was an early adopter of social media, cause marketing and crowd funding. Even with his corporate partners, Adam sought to explore uncharted areas. Most cause marketing is done with brick and mortar retailers, but Adam found success with Chegg, an online textbook rental company. They now have a six-figure partnership.
Learn from Adam. Talk to new and different companies. Try different things. But never your eyes off your mission. That’s what got you to where you are, and why the next partner will want to work with you.
WHATEVER YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH, LEAD WITH IT
Adam is the first to admit that he didn’t like asking people for money. He didn’t directly ask for a gift for three years! “I had to take my ego out of it,” said Adam. “Once I embraced the fact that I wasn’t asking for myself but for the children we are trying to educate, it became an honor to ask people for money.”This helped Adam when he spoke to prospective corporate partners. It’s tempting to lead with the marketing benefits of cause marketing, or, in Adam’s case, to focus on his own accomplishments as the PoP’s founder. But these are excuses for real worth. Take your lead from Adam, and tell your partner how your organization is changing the world.
BUILD AN ARMY
Adam leads with PoP’s mission, but he has an army behind him. Adam went to Brown University at the same time another college student was launching a new website out of Harvard. Adam and his friends at Brown were early users of a site called “The Facebook.” When Adam launched PoP in 2008, he gambled that Facebook – and social media in general – was poised to take off. Today, PoP has nearly 200,000 followers on Facebook, and even more on Twitter.
Adam has an army of supporters he can mobilize to support the brands that care about PoP. Not everyone likes a crowd, but companies like to mix mission with the masses.
Adam would tell you to write that down in pen, not pencil.