In 2012, the Canadian International Development Agency defunded several of its longstanding commitments, As a result, The MATCH Fund lost 75% of its operating budget overnight, nearly shutting down the organization. Two years later, the organization underwent an extensive transformation process, rebranding as The MATCH International Women’s Fund and now serving as Canada's only international fund for women. The organization attributes its success, in part, to its ability to leverage high impact private sector partnerships.
After closing down all of its programs in 2012, today, The MATCH Fund supports innovative women's rights organizations in nearly 30 countries across the global South. In 2014 alone, The MATCH Fund more than doubled projected revenue targets. The organization is in the midst of a five-year plan to dramatically grow direct grantmaking to women on the ground. To succeed in executing this transformation, The MATCH Fund leveraged partnerships with corporate brand developers and public relations and advertising firms to amplify the voice of Canada’s only international women’s fund. Partnering with these private sector actors allowed The MATCH Fund to re-introduce The MATCH Fund to Canada and to elevate the state of women around the world.
While The MATCH Fund had been well established in Canada’s feminist circles for 40 years, the organization struggled to expand its reach to engage new constituencies in the movement for women’s rights. Partnering with private sector actors to plan the organization’s re-launch helped
The MATCH Fund to develop a brand that was bold, disruptive, and recognizable to engage with a broader spectrum of supporters.
Collaboration between The MATCH Fund and private sector actors first developed through The Fund’s first male board member. Having worked previously with The MATCH Fund’s Executive Director at CARE Canada, this member of the board was eager to lend the skills of his team to The MATCH Fund’s philanthropic vision. He forged a partnership between The MATCH Fund and his Toronto-based public relations firm. In addition, The MATCH Fund’s current chair of the board used her connections to engage a woman-led design firm in the rebrand, and this firm reached out to a media buying enterprise. Together, this group of corporate partners worked with The MATCH Fund to establish an award-winning brand campaign.
With a mission to set the tone for Canadian thinking about global women’s issues, the branding company dove into the organization’s personality and established the following Campaign values: feminist, youthful, rogue, disruptive, and expert. These were based on the essence of the work, the staff, and the donors that drove it, as well as a vision of increasing philanthropy to women and girls.
Instead of creating a formal agreement, all partners explored how they could add value to the project. Corporate partners agreed to engage with this Campaign throughout a five-year period, and to moving Canadians along a storyline that ultimately would strengthen their connection to women's issues and an understanding of the complexity that underpins progress.
From December 2013 to April 2015, the original group of corporate partners hosted several brainstorming sessions and convened a group of outside influencers, media experts, board members, and thought-leaders to determine the messages, goals, and themes of the Brand Campaign. Once these had been established, the group focused on the logistics of the Campaign—how to raise awareness about women’s rights in a disruptive and action-oriented manner. This Campaign was unique in the way that each partner quickly learned the “language” and working style of the other to create a bold end product.
To reach the general public, The MATCH Fund’s corporate partners not only provided millions of dollars worth of pro bono expertise, but leveraged their own connections to amplify the campaign’s impact. For example, the public relations firm secured street team members who distributed fake violation tickets to female commuters for the “crime” of wearing pants, thereby transitioning from selling McDonald’s and Tide products to “selling” women’s rights. Promotional product vendors provided free branded SWAT vests and handcuffs for street team members to wear during these demonstrations. Media buyers secured pro bono social media ad space to ensure national coverage and to target micro-markets.
The ripple effect of pro bono support was astounding. The corporate partners benefitted from this campaign just as much The MATCH Fund did, as they were able to use this brand campaign as a way to cultivate leadership development and staff engagement within their respective companies.
Early on in the partnership, The MATCH Fund struggled to value its own expertise in marketing during critical conversations with the corporate partners. The staff soon learned to understand the value of their specific expertise: in their donor base, in fundraising, and in the organization’s philanthropic mission. The MATCH Fund discovered how to strike the balance between its particular expertise and the need to take calculated risks with the encouragement of their corporate partners. As The MATCH Fund increasingly found its voice throughout the Campaign, the organization was able to be bold from the inside out. The collaborative decision-making process that was employed during the Campaign began to infuse The MATCH Fund’s everyday decisions. From this process, the staff began to take a bolder approach to storytelling, stakeholder engagement, and day-to-day operations.
This brand campaign far exceeded The MATCH Fund’s expectations. The Fund was thrilled to see that Phase I of the campaign raised awareness about women’s rights and set the tone for furthering Canadian engagement. The organization is currently in the process of modifying and replicating elements of this phase: out-of-home and web advertising, disruptive demonstrations, and television/media components of the campaign to broaden reach and deepen connections with the target markets.
This phase does not come without its challenges as The MATCH Fund transitions the workload to fit the capacity of their small staff. Additionally, as the organization moves into Phase II of the Campaign, corporate partners are exploring ways to move the campaign from awareness to a stronger focus on action (fundraising). Ultimately, The MATCH Fund will channel more dollars into the hands of women’s rights organizations in order to fulfill The MATCH Fund’s philanthropic mission. The organization looks forward to furthering its relationship with its corporate partners to make this possible.