December feature: Ideal partner

Written by David Adams
December 2009

There may still be some who remain uneasy about charity/corporate partnerships, but the list of such arrangements that have been hugely beneficial for the charities involved, is now a very long one. True, there have been instances of companies trying to exploit charities in a cynical. It is also true that the number of these partnerships has multiplied in part because of the greater prominence of the corporate and social responsibility (CSR) agenda.

But provided a charity researches a potential partner thoroughly and all parties are open about their aims, there is no reason to fear this kind of engagement with those profit-seeking devils in the private sector.

There are though, ground rules charities should observe. First, do your homework, analysing company mission statements and ethical policies to find the right fit. At the same time, suggests Stephen Ballantyne, corporate partnerships manager at Help the Hospices, ask what makes your organisation different and attractive to a potential partner?

For his organisation's case, it is its national reach, coupled with the fact that it supports more than 200 hospices in every corner of the UK, so corporate partners' employees know their actions are supporting organisations in their own community.

Successful partnerships
Having identified the right partner, the usual rules about approaching potential donors apply, including considering who to take along with you if you're invited to make a pitch (the chief executive, a service manager, a service user, or a trustee?) and identifying the right person to approach. Marie-Claire Berreen, community investment manager at Barclays, says representatives of charities sometimes keep talking to her for far too long after she has explained that she isn't the right person.

It also annoys her if someone gets in touch to ask Barclays to do something that they are already doing for that organisation. Even if you are a small organisation, don't be afraid to approach larger companies. Deloitte is a global company that employs more than 10,000 people in the UK alone, but its local offices are free to support local charities.

"There's always a risk smaller charities won't approach big companies," says Tim Grogan, senior manager at Deloitte Audit and Assurance in Manchester. "But often you'll find companies are delighted to hear from local charities."

When it comes to making a good idea into a success, preparation and planning are everything. "Make sure you've got clear outcomes," says Emilia Carman, head of corporate partnerships at Scope. "That's not to say it can't develop on the way, but [you need] a clear understanding of what each of you is doing. That gives you a solid foundation, so if something comes up that you need to react to, you can."

The charity needs to know exactly what the corporate partner wants out of the partnership too. If it's not just about good PR or ticking CSR boxes, what is the company's motive? "It really does give people an opportunity to give something back," says Tim Grogan, noting that employers that encourage staff to get involved in charity partnerships also find it helps attract graduates.

"People tend to think that it's all about getting some good press for the company, but in reality, if anyone was doing it just for that I think people would see through that pretty quickly." It is also often useful to have some kind of contract. "I believe that every partnership should have a contract," says Douglas Campbell Rouse, corporate partnerships director at Save the Children.

Managing expectations
But whether or not this is the case there is a clear need to be realistic about expectations. "I've seen some corporate relationships where the corporate partner has assumed the charity can deliver celebrities at the drop of a hat and fantastic PR that's going to hit the national papers," recalls Douglas Campbell Rouse. "In reality that's very hard to achieve."

For the charity's part, just as with any new fundraising stream, it's not a good idea to base future plans on optimistic projections of extra cash. "It's important to be honest about financial expectations," says Liz Terrett, partnerships manager at the Meningitis Trust. "Just because the company raised £1 million for someone else last year doesn't mean they'll do that for you. In fact, if they had a bumper year last year there might well be a little dip this year."

One useful way to set expectations may be to focus on a particular issue or event. Scope's Emilia Carman highlights the support BT has given her organisation around the development of new communications technologies that can be used by disabled people.

ean- Michel Grand, executive director at Action Against Hunger, attributes part of the success of the partnership his organisation has with restaurant chain Carluccio's (highly commended as the CSR Project of the Year at this year's Charity Times awards) to offering the company a range of potential projects to support at the start of their association.

Beyond conventional fundraising
But in other situations it may be more valuable to build a partnership that incorporates a greater degree of flexibility. A looser approach served the Woodland Trust well in its partnership with the retailer Dorothy Perkins, which donates money from the sales of Woodland Trust branded clothes and gifts.

"A successful partnership is one where you don't want too many constraints on things," says Clare Allen, head of corporate partnerships at the Trust. "What we've done with Dorothy Perkins has changed several times since day one."

What seems to make for the very best corporate partnerships is when employees from the two organisations take the arrangement beyond conventional fundraising or volunteering drives.

One obvious step is to take employees from the company to see where the money their activities are helping to generate is being spent. Action Against Hunger flies staff from its corporate partners overseas to see its work at first hand. "We try to bring some of our partners to see for themselves what we are doing and to ask questions directly to the people we are benefitting," says Jean-Michel Grand.

But partners can help each other in other ways too, with companies offering marketing or legal expertise to the charity on a pro bono basis, for example. Deloitte staff sometimes help Francis House to prepare or refine presentations if the hospice is approaching another potential corporate partner or major donor. The partnership between Help the Hospices and KPMG has involved staff from the latter providing free environmental audits and VAT advice to the charity. Lawyers working for Action Against Hunger's corporate partners Fosters, Morrisons and WHSmith have given free advice to the charity.

Positive PR
Charities also have much more than positive PR to offer corporate partners. "We've deliberately targeted partnerships that better inform our decision making," says Graham Precey, head of CSR at Legal & General, citing partnerships that have helped the company gain a better understanding of health issues like childhood obesity. "With lots of organisations the first conversation is: 'We need money'; and I understand that, but what we're looking for is what is it you can teach us about the outside world?"

Somehow, you also need to measure the success of the partnership. "Make sure you've discussed what success is going to look like right at the start: maybe two or three key objectives, or ten soundbites you want to be able to say at the end of this relationship," suggests Barclays' Marie-Claire Berreen.

Pitfalls to avoid are generally connected to poor planning or communications, or having chosen the wrong partner to begin with. Personnel changes can also cause problems, if the charity's 'champion' leaves the partner company, for example. You also need to try and anticipate things that might go wrong.

"It's about being fully prepared and understanding the implications of actions a partner might take, so you know what your responses might be when people start asking awkward questions," says Douglas Campbell Rouse. He cites the potential problems associated with pack-based fundraising, which could imply that a charity is endorsing a product, an issue that caused some controversy in his previous role at the British Heart Foundation (through no fault of either the charity or the company in question).

Clear sign-off procedures go a long way to eliminating this problem. "Any private sector company would have absolute sign-off on anything that involves use of their logo," he points out. "Charities should do the same: their brands are equally important - if not even more important."

Building these partnerships isn't straightforward. But thoughtfulness, common sense and trust can bring huge benefits for both parties. "Corporate partnerships can generate huge funds and awareness through staff and customers and charities can attract new supporters," says Campbell Rouse. "The key is to be open and honest and to keep talking to each other."

Divided you fall: united you stand to reap the benefit.



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