Any nonprofit communicator can tell you how essential your organization’s values are. Similar to your vision and mission, they’re vital characters in the stories you tell about who you are and what matters to you.

This is the same for any of your partners—their unique values shape the narrative of who they are and what they do. And when entering into a co-branding partnership, it’s important to remember that you’re also entering into a partnership with their values.

So, before publicly connecting yourself with those beliefs, it’s worth taking the time to explore how the partnership between your two brands will look to your audiences.

Co-branding? Four ways to protect your nonprofit’s values

How to protect your values in co-branding partnerships: 4 steps #NPMC Click To Tweet

1. Strengthen your values internally

Everything starts at home. Within your organization, your values should guide how you live and work, and help build strong teams and office culture.

It’s important to make sure that staff across all departments actually understand what your organizational values are. The more familiar they are with your values, the more likely staff will be to ensure they’re translated into co-branding partnerships.

As a non-profit communicator, here are some ways that you can ensure your colleagues across all departments understand your organizational values.

  • Visibility: Don’t just put your values somewhere on your website where the virtual cobwebs can build up. They should be succinctly and accessibly itemized somewhere easy to find, but ensure they are also ingrained in everything that you do—from weaving them into your key messages to tying them into all strategies.
  • Actionable behaviours: Create behavioural habits and characteristics for each value. For instance, if one of your values is ‘Inclusivity,’ your behavioural habit might be to share content from voices that are diverse across age, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, experience, class, and size. It will transform your values from abstract concepts to actionable traits that staff can carry out. This clarity will make it easier for staff to live your organizational values in day-to-day interactions and in co-branding partnerships.
  • Values bootcamps: Run a values bootcamp for new staff when they join the team, as well as refresher sessions for those who have been around for a while. It will strengthen their connection to your values and provide staff with a chance to ask any questions they may have.
  • The origins and importance: When staff understand how and why your values were created, and what the larger consequences are of misalignment—not just to you, but to your community and the causes you support—they may be less likely to sacrifice them along the way. So, take the time to inform your staff on the origins and importance of your values.

2. Do your research

Brand values determine the goals organizations set for themselves, what their voice will sound like, and how they will interact with their community.

By partnering with another organization, you are also partnering with their values—whether or not they differ from yours. Do your research so you know what they stand for and how they behave before you partner with them.

  • Ask questions: Ask yourself lots of questions (and put in the work needed to learn the answers). Is the potential partner reliable? Understanding? Do they seem honest and transparent? Are they socially responsible and non-partisan? The specific questions you ask should be informed by your organizational values.
  • Priorities: Partner with organizations that prioritize their values. Are they easily visible on their website? Does it explain how their values translate into action? Does it feel like they take pride in their values? If their commitment to their values appears to be all talk, chances are they will be less likely to respect yours.
  • Consistency matters: Priorities change. Your values may be aligned today, but will that be the case three months from now? Make sure that the brand you’re partnering with isn’t slated to change their strategic priorities or organizational values any time soon.
  • Online footprint: Spend some time exploring their social media profiles, but don’t just look at their number of followers. Pay attention to the type of content they are posting and how they interact with their community. Would you like your community interacting with them? You can also run a quick background check online to see if any red flags pop up.
  • Consider staff: The line between personal and professional brands is becoming increasingly blurry (and, in some cases, non-existent), so it doesn’t hurt to extend your search to the potential partner’s senior-level staff. Their actions often represent their employer and, therefore, could also reflect on you as their partner; you’ll want to know if their content misaligns with your values.
  • Look even further: Similarly, a partner’s partners can impact you (Try saying that five times in a row. It’s a tongue twister, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.), so look at the types of brands they are partnered with. It may seem extreme, but taking this step will go a long way in securing your integrity and assuring your audiences that your values are important, not just all talk.
'By partnering with another organization, you are also partnering with their values—whether or not they differ from yours.' #cobranding #nonprofit #NPMC Click To Tweet

3. Educate your partner

After completing the above steps, if you’ve decided to move forward with the co-branding partnership, now is a great time to educate your new partner about your values.

Your values are part of the reason why people like and support you. If you do something that misaligns with them or shows poor values, they won’t be afraid to abandon their loyalty to you. Ensure your partner doesn’t indirectly sabotage your integrity by miscommunicating your values. Make it easy for them by providing as many resources as possible.

  • Values: First things first, let your partner know what your values are and how they translate into behaviours and actions.
  • Key messages: The language you use should align with your values. Share your key messages and language guides with your partner, or consider creating messaging specifically for the partnership. Feel free to point out terms or phrases that you intentionally don’t use, and provide context on why they should be avoided.
  • Style guide: Your values aren’t just expressed through your language. They are also represented in your imagery and tone. Share your style guide so your partner knows how to live your values in all aspects of the partnership.
  • Values bootcamp: Consider running your values bootcamp—even if only a condensed version—with your partner. Just like when done internally, it will strengthen their awareness of your values and provide an opportunity for them to ask questions.
  • The consequences: You know your audience and have expertise in communicating about your cause. Your values are informed by that experience. It’s important for your partner to understand that there could be real consequences—like community backlash on social media platforms—if they communicate inappropriately about your organization and the work you do.
'Ensure your partner doesn’t indirectly sabotage your integrity by miscommunicating your values.' #cobranding #nonprofit #NPMC Click To Tweet

4. Review, approve and monitor

You did the research. You educated your partner. You’re done now, right? Wrong. Now comes the ongoing work on sustaining the conversation about your values.

People admire charities and brands when their values resonate with them. So it’s important that you don’t abandon your values if your partner wants to do something that isn’t aligned. Remember, you are the expert on your brand and your audience, so trust your insight.

  • Review and approve: Make sure you have a chance to review and approve anything before it’s published. Nothing should go live unless you have given the ‘OK.’
  • Timelines: A great way to ensure that nothing gets missed is to create a shared work-back plan with built-in time for reviews and any required changes. After all, when people are rushing, things inevitably get messy.
  • Contracts: Even if you trust your partner, it never hurts to include something about brand and value alignment in your partnership contracts.
  • Monitor: Regardless of whether you’ve followed all of the right steps, things can change and mistakes can happen. Make sure you monitor your partner’s communication channels regularly to ensure everything is aligned.

At the end of the day, your values are the foundation on which your brand was built. Embrace that reality and let them help you to build new, great things for your organization.

'People admire charities and brands when their values resonate with them; don’t abandon your values if your partner wants to do something that isn’t aligned.' #cobranding #nonprofit #NPMC Click To Tweet

What steps do you take to protect your organization’s values? Share your insight in the comments below.

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