Boost your e-commerce business with nonprofit partnerships

This post is part of a series celebrating SmartSign’s 15th Anniversary. In 15 posts, we reflect on lessons learned, good experiences, and company-wide changes that brought us to this milestone of success. You can view the entire series here.


Alex Roitman works with nonprofits as part of his marketing duties.

From time to time, we all hear how companies’ nonprofit affiliations and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts help them — and sometimes hurt. Despite flagging sales, Coke donated its entire ad budget for the Philippines to flood relief in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. On the other hand, Chick-fil-A became notorious for its owners’ support for organizations that fight same-sex marriage, and while many consumers might agree with the owners’ positions, no one doubts that the Cathy family is playing chicken with demographics on the issue.

Let’s be honest, though: a smaller e-commerce company’s every move is unlikely to make headlines by itself. We don’t wield the ad budgets that a Coke does, we don’t have a built-in megaphone like Upworthy, and our profits aren’t such that an owner funneling them into a radioactive cause is likely to get much attention, either. But the reasons to invest in nonprofit partnerships go far beyond PR for e-commerce companies.

When money is scarce, help goes a long way

Alex Roitman — who works with nonprofits as part of SmartSign’s marketing team — says, “All my life I’ve worked with nonprofits from my synagogue to university philanthropies. I know how hard it is to say, ‘I’d love to do this fantastic program, but we don’t have the budget.'” Although Americans are more willing than most to open their wallets, scoring a respectable 5th place in the World Giving Index, that doesn’t always translate into efficient, cost-effective operations.

“Limited budgets can put a huge damper on morale and drain talent from amazing nonprofits working on great things. I wish I had reached out to more companies,” Roitman says. But e-commerce companies can both do good and give themselves a boost.

Gaining exposure and presence on the web

One way SmartSign has supported nonprofit organizations: agreements to sponsor organizations with signage in exchange for a thank you or mention on their site.

All online brands need to maintain a active and evolving web presence to increase leads and build credibility as a company. Relationships with schools, universities, and NGOs act as an endorsement to potential customers looking for goods and services. Publicizing a relationship with a large and trusted institution can help companies gain immediate benefits. This is why many e-commerce websites use badges to acknowledge their security measures to protect consumer data or their affiliation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Donations with large organizations can also lead to future purchases, and a long trusting relationship.

In the long run, product donations trump cash

Many e-commerce companies don’t have much cash to spare, but plenty of product on hand. This allows them to send needful items to nonprofits — and these donations can be even more valuable than cash, since they bring the cost to the nonprofit down to zero, while also reducing the cost to the company of a meaningful donation.

Put another way: Let’s say Company X donates $10 to Nonprofit Y so that Nonprofit Y can buy Widget Z for $10. In the end, the cost of this sponsorship to Company X is $10. But what if Company X makes (and is willing to donate) widgets, and Widget Z costs it $3? The $7 difference means Company X can donate more of Widget Z to other nonprofits in the future, maximizing the good the company does.

SmartSign’s history of giving

SmartSign has forged relationships with numerous nonprofits, large and small, making donations, working on projects together, and finding common interests. SmartSign has joined Transportation Alternatives to promote safe driving and healthy alternatives to automobiles; it has worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to get the word out on the dangers of DWI; it has donated all-gender bathroom signage to Oberlin University; and it has given reserved parking signs for vets to the Wounded Warrior Project.

“Working for a sign company means being able to put nonprofits’ interests in front of a lot of eyeballs,” says Roitman. “Sometimes we benefit and other times we don’t, but as a company, we think it’s always important to give either way.”

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