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Partnering with Local Nonprofits

by Emily O'Shaughnessy

Many local residents couldn’t contain themselves recently when The Container Store opened a new store in our area. There was a big buzz about their grand opening, and it wasn’t entirely due to that fancy elfa system. They generated a lot of positive publicity promoting the fact that 10% of sales for the entire grand opening weekend would be donated to Interfaith of The Woodlands, a local nonprofit organization.

Being a large corporation, one of The Container Store’s major challenges is to avoid being seen as just another big box store. So they figured out a way to combat the stereotype – by getting involved in their local communities. Each location goes out of its way to partner with local nonprofits, specifically those that promote women’s and children’s health and well-being.

Based on past results, their approach is effective and a great way to introduce a new store to the community. It brings key community leaders to their “VIP” events, and ensures shoppers feel good about their purchases – after all, it IS going to a good cause (I have to admit I’ve used that line as justification a few times myself).

Of course the concept of partnering with nonprofits is not new, and it’s just as important for small businesses to align themselves with local nonprofits. An effective partnership can be mutually beneficial and grant access to an entirely new set of prospective customers. It promotes positive PR, and can be a great way to engage employees by getting them involved in volunteer days or other community events.

But just as The Container Store did their research to choose a nonprofit that closely aligns with its community missions, small businesses need to do their homework before teaming up with an organization. There are tons of great nonprofits out there, but not all are the right fit for your company.

So how do you choose? First, look at the basics – does the organization share a similar vision to your business? Are there mutual interests? Similar clientele? Are their key leaders influential or highly respected in the community? Just because your sons play little league together and their president is the nicest guy in the world doesn’t mean his organization is the best strategic alignment. Of course, there are some things you support just because it’s the right thing to do. But I’m talking about long-term, planned, strategic partnerships with key nonprofits.

One example of an effective small business/nonprofit partnership is the relationship between Couture House Rentals and The Giving Gown Foundation. Couture House Rentals is a local boutique that specializes in rentals of high-end couture for formal events such as galas, weddings, special events and proms. The Giving Gown Foundation is a nonprofit organization that collects new and like-new formal dresses and provides them to high school girls who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend their prom.

Last spring, Couture House Rentals donated many high-end dresses, shoes and accessories to The Giving Gown Foundation. They also became a donation drop-off site where anyone in the community could come to donate dresses. By doing this, they drew new, potential customers into their showroom that may otherwise never have known about their location. They also benefited from The Giving Gown Foundation’s large database of volunteers and partners, not to mention had something to promote on their website and Facebook page.

Before long, the local press ran a story on The Giving Gown Foundation accompanied by a large picture of the owner of Couture House with the dresses they collected. It was a great article and the kind of positive PR every small business owner loves.  Talk about a win-win. Actually a win-win-win. Couture House Rentals benefited from the partnership. The Giving Gown Foundation grew from the relationship. But the real winners were the hundreds of high school girls who got to attend their prom looking and feeling beautiful.

Though vastly different in size and industry, The Contatiner Store and Couture House Rentals are two excellent examples of companies that effectively aligned themselves with local nonprofit organizations and positively promoted their image. The partnership gave them access to an entirely new set of potential customers and created goodwill toward their business, all while making positive contributions to their community.

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