How to Set Up an Affinity Program for Your Nonprofit

Business partnerships can be rewarding.

If your nonprofit organization is looking for a reliable source of income that can also boost brand awareness and engagement, an affinity program may be a rewarding option.

Before embarking on this route, it’s essential to know what an affinity program is, the pros and cons of starting one, and how to create one with a business partner.

Affinity programs may be most useful for any membership-based nonprofit. That includes many 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits, 501(c)(6) nonprofits, and 501(c)(4) organizations. Any nonprofit with a loyal membership or donor base could find added value in an affinity program all while honoring the values on which it is based

What Is an Affinity Program?

An affinity program is a partnership between a nonprofit organization and a business, where the business offers exclusive services or rates to members, while the nonprofit earns a portion of the sale. Through this relationship—or affinity—both business and nonprofit may enjoy an increase in revenue as well as member engagement.

For example, the National Council of Nonprofits has affinity programs with several partners, including marketing and creative firm Firespring. As a partner, Firespring supports its partner’s mission by offering a suite of services tailored for nonprofit websites. Another partner, human resources firm Coeus Global, offers background screening and risk management services for nonprofits.

The National Council of Nonprofits spreads brand awareness for Firespring and Coeus Global by displaying their logos and links on an affinity partners page on its website, and promotes these services to its membership. 

Benefits of an Affinity Program

So how does an affinity program help?

Revenue Increase

For nonprofits, maintaining a consistent stream of income through donations, grants, and fundraisers can be challenging. An affinity program is an additional source of revenue that can provide needed support. In many affinity programs, the nonprofit’s members or donors buy a service through a business that has partnered with it. The nonprofit receives a percentage of the sale as a referral commission. The business benefits from the sale and the nonprofit gains revenue from its commissions.

Improved Retention

When you offer great deals to members through an affinity program with a business partner, you’re helping those members save money, as well as time spent searching for deals on their own. When members are happy with the deals your program provides, they’re more likely to feel loyal to your association. A good program earns trust and keeps members coming back.

Better Brand Awareness

Through an affinity program, both business and nonprofit enjoy inexpensive advertising. A company will typically link to a partnered nonprofit on its website.

An affinity program also proves that the business engages in corporate responsibility: it reveals its corporate values through its partnerships. Similarly, when a nonprofit explains its affinity program or programs on its website and links to the business’s page of exclusive deals or services, it provides a benefit to its members and vouches for the integrity of that business. 

Because this mutual relationship is based on trust, it behooves both businesses and nonprofits to choose their partners wisely.

The business and nonprofit must also offer a service that fits the needs of the nonprofit’s membership. For example, Independent Sector is a coalition of nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs, so it has an affinity program with Jitasa, a national accounting and bookkeeping service provider with expertise in nonprofit financial services.

How to Set Up an Affinity Program

Now that you’ve seen how an affinity program benefits both parties, you might be ready to set up your program. Where do you start?

Find a Reliable and Trustworthy Business Partner

The first step to setting up an affinity program is to find a business partner that works well with your nonprofit organization. Find a business partner whose values and mission align with your organization’s purpose. They don’t have to align precisely, but a business that works towards similar goals or has the same purpose will make a good partner. For example, law office Perlman & Perlman provides legal services tailored to nonprofits’ needs. Its program with Independent Sector is helpful for new or smaller nonprofits who can’t afford a staff attorney.

For a less obvious example, consider the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, a nonprofit organization that advocates for nurses, therapists, aides, and other caregivers employed by home care and hospice organizations.

One of the NAHC’s partners is Enterprise Fleet Management. Through its partnered affinity program, NAHC members receive special incentives on car fleets and discounts on car rentals. Members can get special discounts through Enterprise Rent-a-Car, National, or Alamo.

The partnership between NAHC and a fleet management company doesn't seem beneficial at first, but their values do align. NAHC members work to provide in-home services for others, and they often need reliable transport to do that. Enterprise can fulfill that need and offer exclusive deals through their program.

Create Meaningful Offers

Finding the perfect business to partner with your nonprofit isn't enough. Your partnership won’t generate any revenue unless you can provide useful, valuable offers to your consumers. Your partnership should strive to offer something that neither partner could have done alone.

For instance, the Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals (ANFP) has a variety of affinity programs. It offers deals in industries like travel, insurance, hotels and lodging, and even vacation packages. Many ANFP members work in nursing homes, hospitals, retirement communities, or other facilities like daycares or military bases. Their jobs might require travel or ANFP members may make travel and personal time off a priority in their lives. If that's the case, ANFP’s affinity programs cater to those needs.

Spread the Word

Once you’ve created valuable offers with your new business partner, it’s time to spread the word about your affinity program. Consider creating a multi-channel marketing campaign. You might announce the new program through the following channels:

Nurture Your Program and Partnership

Like any business partnership, if you want to keep your affinity program a success for years to come, it’s essential to nurture and care for the relationship between business and nonprofit.

Develop open and consistent communication. Both business and nonprofit should be able to track, analyze, and report on how program initiatives are doing. Both partners should also be aware of how much revenue is generated from the program.

Transparency bolsters mutual trust. Be receptive to feedback from your partner and from your membership or consumers.  

Tap Into the Power of an Affinity Program

An affinity is a relationship between two things based on common interests. Similarly, an affinity program between a nonprofit organization and a business partner benefits both of them. To find the right business partner, a nonprofit must look for similar goals and a shared purpose to provide meaningful offers to members. A partnership must have open communication and frequent feedback to be successful. Then, both nonprofit and business can reap the benefits: an increase in revenue, brand awareness, and consumer loyalty.