There are a handful of proven referral partnership approaches that I’ve advised most every small business to consider.
One is to establish a formal partnership with a not for profit whose mission you can get passionate about supporting.
Approach the development director or a board member and tell them up front that you want to explore all of the ways to partner. Many non-profits will take and need your financial donation, but I find that they are always looking for much deeper relationships with businesses.
Build supporting this organization’s mission through financial support, event support, in kind support, volunteer support and even committee or staff support into the partnering idea. Supporting a community cause can be very good for your business and good for your business culture when done for the right reasons and allowed to grow.
To maximize the relationship I further suggest that you use your marketing muscle to provide your chosen not for profit with a win that also allows you to showcase your relationship.
This, I’ll admit, is a tricky point and let me put forth this disclaimer: I’m not suggesting by any stretch that you flaunt your good deeds publicly for gain, but people want to support companies that they see are doing good things in the community, people are proud to work for a company that they feel cares about the community and your marketing support can provide significant opportunities for exposure and fundraising for your chosen partner.
A large regional bank in my community (UMB Bank) has started a pretty innovative support campaign in this vein that involves Twitter and Foursquare. Banks are highly regulated so they often have to great pretty creative if they are to use social media in any meaningful way.
One of the ways that UMB raises funds for its chosen charities is to donate when people use the #umbgives hashtag or check in at a branch on Foursquare. Throughout the year they rotate in a new charity and all tweets of any kind that include the hashtag and checkins accumulate money for the organization.
This to me is a great way to create a win for the organizations while demonstrating community involvement. The not for profits have a very easy way to get their staff, volunteers, donors, and other constituents involved and the bank receives some glow from all that sharing and tweeting. In addition, bank employees now have a very simple way to participate and support the charity while supporting their own organization through social media. I like the month to month approach as well because it creates some urgency for the organization.
Another great approach is to simply hold a special event, sale or new product launch and designate a portion of the proceeds for that campaign to your organization. This allows and motivates your charitable partner to help spread the work and it’s another win for all involved.
Done creatively and in support of a mission your entire organization can get behind, this approach offers some wonderful opportunities for both brands and not for profits.