In an industry that’s no stranger to small marketing budgets, strategic co-branding can be an extremely effective tool for nonprofit organizations.

The reality is that, as non-profit marketers and communicators, we’re always looking for ways to get more bang for our buck; co-branding partnerships offer a scalable way to create buzz, build audience reach, and gain new supporters, all while saving on advertising costs.

Of course, not all co-branding partnerships result in success. No matter how many co-branding strategies you’ve executed, creating content for a specific partnership comes with its own set of challenges. There’s a lot of work that goes into it and, with a new partner added to the mix, you run the risk of having too many cooks in the kitchen.

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Follow these three handy steps, and you’ll be reaping the (co-branding) rewards in no time.

Three steps for a win-win co-branding partnership

How to create a win-win co-branding partnership for your non-profit: 3 steps #NPMC Share on X

1. Respect (and protect) your brand

When entering into a new co-branding partnership, it’s important to take steps to protect the strong brand you’ve worked hard to build and maintain. Sharing the following resources, and asking for your partner’s in return, can help to ensure that no one’s brand is being misrepresented.

  • Brand guidelines: Your organization’s brand guidelines—which includes essential details like your official boilerplate, tone of voice, logo lockup guidelines, and photography style—should be treated like your holy grail. It’s got almost everything your partner will need.
  • Official logo: Provide high-resolution versions of your official logo in all available languages, file formats (e.g., JPEG, PNG, EPS), and colours to ensure it always looks its best, regardless of the avenue.
  • Key messages: Respecting and protecting your brand isn’t just about the way your logo looks. It’s also important to make sure that the language used to communicate about the partnership is aligned with your organization’s tone of voice. It can be helpful to share key messages about who you are, what you do, and why the partnership is important.
  • Brand kit: To make things easier for everyone, create a brand kit by adding all of the above items into a .zip folder or an online drive, so your partner has everything they need for success in one place.

2. Tell the best stories

You have each other’s brand guidelines, logos, and key messages, but what’s next?

Now’s a great time to start exploring how you can tell the best stories. When doing this work, here are few things to keep in mind.

  • Shared values: We’ve all come across co-branding partnerships that make us say, huh? These are the types of brand unions where you can’t quite figure out how or why the two partners fit together. Find a common value you both share and use that to help craft your narrative, because the last thing you want is mundane partnership logistics overshadowing your message.
  • Collateral materials: The more resources you can provide, the easier it will be for your partner to talk about your organization. And the easier it is, the more likely they’ll be to do it. No one’s ever a fan of creating more work for themselves, so feel free to pull from existing materials, like annual reports or newsletters.
  • Emotional connection: We all know how beneficial it can be to create an emotional connection to the work we do. Chances are your partners will feel the same way. Do you have stories, personal testimonies, or photos that demonstrate the positive impact of your work on the lives of real people? Pass these on so your partner can share them with their audiences.
  • Proven results: Provide your partner with stats and infographics that highlight your successful results. If you have testimonials from third-party evaluators that support your work, even better!
  • Join the conversation: It doesn’t matter if your partner’s telling the most compelling story if you’re not a part of the conversation. Make sure they have links to your website and your social media channels, as well as any relevant hashtags, so you can be included in the dialogue.
  • Pre-approved promotional items: Team up with a product company (e.g., Rightsleeve, Sigma Promotions) to create a catalogue of pre-approved promotional items, like t-shirts or pens, in case your partner wants to give their audiences physical items.
A key ingredient of a strong co-branding partnership is communication—frequent and honest communication #NPMC #nonprofit #marketing Share on X

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Like any good relationship, a key ingredient of a strong co-branding partnership is communication—frequent and honest communication.

  • ROI: In co-branding partnerships, all involved share in the rewards. But only when you both agree on what the desired outcomes are. Your efforts won’t be a success if you’re focused on high impression numbers, but your partner’s working towards increased donations. Make sure to discuss (and come to a consensus on) what the overall goal is.
  • Action plan: Once you know what goal you’re both working towards, develop a strategic plan and assign action items to specific people. Be sure to include deadlines—and don’t be afraid to hold people to them!
  • Content calendar: When possible, it can be useful to provide your partner with access to your content calendar. If they know when you’ll be posting online, they can be ready to share your content with their audiences.
  • Approval processes: Make sure you discuss what approval processes are required, and build appropriate turnaround times into your work-back schedules.
  • Partnership agreement: Trust and transparency between both partners is important, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock everything down in a partnership agreement (just to be sure).

Even with all of these steps in place, there will always be moments that call for compromise. Know what are your ‘non-negotiables’ and where you can be flexible, because, at the end of the day, it’s never worth it to die on every hill.

Have you participated in any co-branding partnerships lately? What are some of the steps you took to ensure the partnerships were a success? Let us know in the comments below.

Three steps for a win-win co-branding partnership #nonprofit #marketing #NPMC Share on X
Alex Kruger

Alex Kruger

Marketing and Brand Manager at Pathways to Education Canada
Alex Kruger is the Marketing and Brand Manager at Canada’s award-winning social innovation, Pathways to Education Canada. With close to 10 years’ experience working in marketing, brand development, communications, and media, she has consistently helped non-profit organizations build their brands, share their work, and create positive social change. She is a firm believer in the power of authentic storytelling.
Alex Kruger
Alex Kruger