By Scot Kersgaard, JVA Consulting

Collaboration is all the rage these days. How can nonprofits work together to have greater impact seems to be the question of the day.

When fellow JVAer Collin Lessing and I lead marketing workshops we also talk about collaboration, but we had a new experience last week—leading an entire two-hour workshop on collaborative marketing at a nonprofit conference in Loveland.

Collaborative marketing is exactly what it sounds like, and it has been around for years. Lately, it’s become something of a buzzword, with major articles in Forbes, Huffington Post and other major media.

Large organizations can easily afford to employ marketing and communications professionals. Many smaller organizations cannot afford staff dedicated to marketing, so either the executive director, the development director or someone else has these functions rolled into their job description–or marketing is an afterthought.

It doesn’t have to be that way. All across the country, small nonprofits with similar missions have joined together to share marketing staff. That is only one way to engage in collaborative marketing, though.

Even organizations with robust communication departments as well as those who are leery of sharing staff, can profit from collaborative marketing. How? Simply by working together toward common goals.

Perhaps there are three organizations providing teen mentoring in your town. Each of you have tried to host gala fundraising dinners, and have come up short. By hosting a joint event, economies of scale drive costs down and by working together for the common good you are able to attract enough guests to actually make the event a success. Not only that, but by working together for the common good you send a powerful message to the public.

Perhaps there are five organizations doing environmental advocacy work in your county. Working alone, the media has little interest in your events or your statements. Together, you present a united front and gain credibility from each other.

Your web site and social media efforts are fine–if a little underwhelming. By linking to each other’s sites, you all improve your search engine optimization (SEO) and draw more traffic.

Among your supporters are numerous businesses. If Joe’s Furniture Store can add your logo and the tagline “Joe’s Furniture is a proud supporter of Jim’s Food Bank”, Joe gains the credibility and respect that comes with supporting a worthy cause and you get your name and web address in front of a wider audience. If Joe lets you set up a booth in his store one Saturday a month, the partnership is even more beneficial—for each of you.

Among your supporters or members are at least a few politicians or local celebrities who are happy to come to your events. What if you join with another organization who has different (but non competing) political or celebrity friends. Do an event together and double the attraction–both to the media and the public as a whole. And, because your political/celebrity friends get to speak to more people, they are happier too.

One of the most powerful tools in marketing and communication today is social media. What makes it so powerful is that it is both a grassroots tool–something that your supporters can use to get the word out to their friends and social/business networks–and a viral tool, which can spread like wildfire.

Collaborative marketing then, can refer to any number of things including:

  • Sharing marketing resources or personnel with other organizations
  • Hosting events with other organizations
  • Issuing joint press releases, statements and op-eds
  • Creating partnerships with businesses
  • Creating links between websites
  • Using social media to promote each other’s events
  • Enlisting your members and supporters to promote you in social media

Join Collin and Scot at JVA June 24 for a workshop in brand identity and perception.