My story starts on a plane to Chicago, memorizing a 90 second rant that I had given about 5 times before. I had become a hired gun, used by the new business development team to represent our media agency’s event marketing capabilities. Once we landed, I would help us fight to win a $160 million dollar account to do the media buying and planning for a Fortune 100 company. And, like every other flight, I was sick to my stomach that this is what my life had become. I knew that we might win the business, but none of that money would be allocated to fund a project like the case study I was going to present.

The case study: In 2006, I had the privilege of helping to develop the ‘World Vision Experience: AIDS’ campaign. In partnership with the NGO World Vision, we built a 30,000 foot replica of an African village impacted by HIV. We walked attendees through the lives of real people who had experienced the devastating affects of the disease. In nine months, we helped raise $9 million dollars for World Vision, were featured as a lead story in every market’s local news station, and literally changed hundreds of thousands of peoples’ perception of the epidemic.

I had spent ten years overseeing toothpaste sampling campaigns, turning gas stations into promotional spas, and setting up 20′ x 20′ cyber teen stations at fairs and festivals. I knew the costs our agency had incurred to launch these low impact campaigns and knew how difficult, behind closed doors, it was to justify their ROI (return on investment).

All of a sudden, I was overseeing a campaign that had no staffing costs (volunteers manned the exhibit in each market), no venue costs (churches hosted for free), and a pre-built marketing machine (the congregation of our local churches). With one strategic nonprofit partner, we had an organized, efficient grassroots infrastructure that would have cost us close to a million dollars to build on our own. We were executing a low cost, high impact media campaign, with scale, and communicating with an untouched demographic through a completely uncluttered media platform. Oh… and we were doing an amazing thing to change the world! As a media guy, I knew there wasn’t a corporation in the world that wouldn’t see the value in this type of nonprofit partnership. Little did I know how wrong I was…

Six months after I got off that plane to Chicago, I left my media job and began working for a national nonprofit, running their communications and development department. In my first two months, we raised over $60,000 in new corporate revenue. The nonprofit was happy. I was confused.

Sixty thousand dollars? I had just finished an event marketing campaign where we charged $750,000 to set up a 16 foot branded airbus at 30 fairs and festivals. $60,000 would have bought us less than a week on the road.

And now, I was representing a national nonprofit that functioned as one of the most trusted resources for schools, administrators, communities and parents in 16 cities. Every day, we interacted with almost 5,000 kids and 8,000 parents. And, I could only bump our partnerships up by $60,000? I just didn’t get it. What was I missing? Why didn’t our corporate partners see the value in the platform we were offering? Why couldn’t they recognize the obvious bottom line ROI, in relation to other high impact media platforms they were using (i.e., event marketing, blog networks, OOH, Scholastic, etc.)?

To quickly summarize the next five years, I learned a few things about corporate / NGO partnership that helped me answer this question. I can summarize these learnings in seven key points:
– Nonprofits are still a completely untapped resource for media planning
– Nonprofits target most of their corporate money from corporate Foundations, CSR, HR, and/or grassroots marketing budgets. Seldom are they included in the media mix, where the largest budgets are allocated to bring to life the overall engagement platform.
– There is a reason nonprofits are seldom included in this process (will go into more detail in my next blog post).
– There is a new form of cause partnership that is emerging, defined by programs such as Pepsi Refresh, Best Buy @15, Chase Community Giving, etc. This form of partnership is neither cause-marketing or Foundation giving and, once the kinks are worked out, it will re-define the space.
– Michael Porter, and his concept of Shared Value, will forever change the corporate world’s perception of “giving.” When it becomes widely accepted that cause partnership can drive business, the current model of engagement will be turned on its head.
– The era of quick hit promotional cause-marketing campaigns, with little to no accountability, are done! They will be replaced with long-term sustainable partnerships that align brands with the core values of their constituents. The success of these NGO partnerships will be measured by the same measurement indicators that are used for the rest of the business (brand awareness & perception, sales, etc.)
– Nonprofits have been given a ‘pass’ on measuring how they affect the business of their corporate partners. The ceiling of corporate investment can only be expanded if the rationale for that expansion is methodically grounded in quantitative measurement.
At Shared Value Media, we believe the game is changing and we welcome our role as facilitators in that change. Thanks for following us.

– Cal Zarin, CEO