Securing a three-year, $6.6-million-cash-and-in-kind commitment from a corporate partner might seem like an achievement in itself for a nonprofit such as the American Red Cross.

In a similar vein, simply the founding and announcement of such a program by a company such as The Home Depot, Inc. could be enough to fulfill the community relations purpose behind it.

And indeed, for the first year of just such a partnership in ’05, those two blue-chip organizations were content to let the relationship play out against its long-term goal of educating one million consumers about disaster preparedness with not much more than a plan to host in-store clinics.

But at the end of that year, both sides realized that establishing and funding a program alone would not ensure delivery against return on objectives.

“When we went into the partnership we had the broad goal of educating one million people, but we did not build out the tactics to accomplish that goal,” said Kyle Waide, Home Depot’s senior integration manager, community affairs.

“Our strategy wasn’t defined, and the Red Cross struggled to make it work because we hadn’t communicated our expectations,” he added.

“We had to become more strategic,” added Kristine Templin, director of corporate partnerships and cause marketing for the Red Cross. “We want to become more of a consumer brand, so it was important for us to sit down with our counterparts at the Home Depot and determine what we could do to get our message out.”

Even though Home Depot did not have direct sales goals for the program, its community outreach objective and having a positive societal impact were no less important. “Sitting down and drafting a map on how to get there really strengthened our investment,” Waide said.

When year two ended a few months ago, it was clear just what a difference the “framework for action” that the property and sponsor put in place had made. By December ’06, the partnership doubled the number of consumers reached and already surpassed the one-million goal prior to the start of year three.

How The Program Was Transformed
Below, the key steps Red Cross and Home Depot took to strengthen their partnership and achieve ROO.

Create chapter grants program. In ’05, the Red Cross largely managed the partnership through its national office. Realizing the importance of community support, the nonprofit and Home Depot looked for ways to engage the cause’s local chapters.

To accomplish that goal, the Red Cross and Home Depot created a chapter grants program that allocated $10,000 each to 40 chapters to assist with new or ongoing disaster preparedness projects that had “maximum outreach potential.” The grants marked the first time a Red Cross corporate partner worked directly with local chapters.

To fund the new initiative, Home Depot directed $200,000 of its $1 million ’06 cash commitment to chapter grants and added another $200,000 that had been allocated for chapter-specific support in ’05 but which had gone unused.

Sponsor national convention. To further engage local chapters, Home Depot allocated $15,000 of its fee to become a silver sponsor of the American Red Cross National Convention in May ’06.

Home Depot received exhibit space to showcase the various resources it offers to Red Cross chapters, including the hosting of in-store clinics on hurricane, tornado and fire safety; in-kind donations; and a purchase program through the company’s HD Supply wholesale distribution division.

Waide, along with the senior vice president of response for Red Cross, also led a Disaster Partnerships training session for chapter staff and volunteers that discussed the role of public-private partnerships before and during disasters.

Templin said that the grants and involvement in the conference achieved the desired results, noting that 265 chapters became involved in in-store clinics last year, up from only a handful in ’05.

Put marketing resources behind program. To raise public awareness of and interest in the in-store clinics, Home Depot’s communication and marketing department enhanced its support of the partnership in ’06.

Among the new efforts, a national consumer survey that measured the public’s level of preparedness in advance of hurricane season. Results were used not only to attract attention, but also shared with the Red Cross to help tailor the clinic curriculum.

Place a full-time Home Depot employee at Red Cross headquarters. Realizing the effectiveness of a stepped-up program would be based in part on proper staff resources, Home Depot last year allocated part of its commitment to paying for a full-time staffer dedicated to the partnership and locating the position within the Red Cross national office.

The staff associate, Melanie Kowano, is charged with serving as a liaison between Home Depot corporate, Red Cross national staff, local chapters and Home Depot stores.

“The Red Cross has many departments involved in the partnership,” Waide noted. “Having someone located in their offices to map out the relationship helped smooth out a lot of the rough spots.”

Launch an employee giving program. To engage its employees and raise additional money for the cause, Home Depot added the Red Cross to its annual employee giving campaign in ’06.

Over a four-week period last fall, 559 employees donated more than $55,000 to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Home Depot supplied a 100 percent match, thus adding $110,000 to its $1 million commitment.

Adjustments For Year Three
Among the key learnings that have informed this year’s plans and activities: the need for more advance planning and collaboration around in-store clinics; designing clear roles and responsibilities across both organizations and instilling accountability; and better internal and external communication between Red Cross headquarters, Red Cross chapters, Home Depot corporate and its stores to ensure consistency of message throughout the partnership.

In addition, the two parties have teamed up on two new initiatives aimed at enhancing Red Cross’s volunteer and employee training: a professional development and orientation program for emergency service program managers in every chapter, and a community relations liaison training program focused on expanding the diversity of Red Cross volunteers.