A corporate partnership can be a great opportunity for your charity. To help avoid your corporate partnership failing, click on the headlines below to see some key advice about making corporate partnerships work.
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These are challenging times all round, but particularly for charities, and 2021 will continue to be even after the full roll-out of vaccines.
At a time when charities are struggling to adapt to income streams being hit, fundraising events being cancelled and new ways of working, they need to protect their philanthropic visions more than ever.
Even before Covid-19, I was a firm believer that there was an opportunity and need for charities to diversify their income streams and reduce their reliance on traditional fundraising methods. The traditional world we used to live in was already changing at a rapid pace, and this has only been accelerated further by the pandemic.
One thing that Covid has reinforced in all of us is that nothing is a given and should be taken for granted; we have all had to get creative and explore new ways to raise income and leverage the skills, networks, assets we already have.
This is all easier said than done, especially for charities which:
- Are often such experts in the fields in which they operate that they don’t have as much knowledge or experience in other areas.
- May not have the skills, resource or appetite to diversify.
- Generally, and rightly so, prioritise philanthropy and passion over profit and are not accustomed to having to constantly scrutinise balance sheets.
With these challenges in mind, I believe there is a real opportunity for brave charities to stand out, behave differently and extend their scope in order to survive these current times. But it can only work with the following:
- The right mindset and commitment to venture into the unknown.
- The right partnership and people.
- 100% clear vision and buy in from the top.
- A genuine need that your diversification can serve.
- Focus on their assets that they can leverage to provide solutions.
- A customer first and backwards mindset.
Let me explain how the charity I ultimately work for, Versus Athritis, has embarked on producing a new income stream for through the pandemic and far beyond.
In what I like to regard as a pioneering response to the challenging charity landscape, the charity approached consultancy Good Innovation to collaborate and co-create a new social venture, Arthr. This initiative was not only commercially driven; it was also inspired by a genuine and urgent need for people with arthritis to have a greater choice of quality products that made every day easier for them without taking away their sense of dignity and independence.
Versus Arthritis had the vision, the research, the community, the understanding of the market, but lacked the commercial know-how, the resource and expertise to launch a new retail product range to market. So it sought outside collaboration. And for us that’s where a successful partnership works, where complementary skills are brought together under one common vision to make a difference not just for the charity, but for the 10 million people in the UK living with arthritis.
And so, Arthr was born.
Focusing on the mission
For me, as Arthr’s managing director, there was the extra dimension of running a business owned by a charity. Being a social venture I knew from the start that it was, of course, really important to focus on the mission that we were looking to achieve on behalf of the charity. So now, under the umbrella of making every day easier for people with arthritis, we keep our focus on the two key axes: providing positive impacts and delivering a revenue stream for the charity.
It goes without saying that the products we develop should be functional and provide the support that they are designed to. Our solution of having ChangeMakers, a network of critical ambassadors of people living with arthritis, is designed to ensure that all of our offerings are built from the customer backwards.
This is where a greater responsibility comes in. Being part of a charity we must ensure that we are completely respectful to the genuine needs of the user, rather than any products being just a well marketed product designer’s dream.
We have to always keep in mind that the person who has arthritis makes an informed decision about the products they use so we certainly avoid ‘selling’ but rather emphasise how the needs, identified in our research, are met. Additionally, one of the first roles that we appointed was that of a customer champion, someone who is an expert in the challenges of our community and has volunteered for Versus Arthritis for many years, so understands both the business and the charity.
In relation to the occasional past examples of some charities offering commercial services or products subject to criticism, Arthr has a strong review process and protocal in place with the trustees of Versus Arthritis ensuring that there is detailed governance across all aspects of our operation.
Running a social venture like this isn’t all about the opportunities; there are also the pitfalls and challenges. It can be challenging to develop a commercial operation, with the ability to scale production and marketing channels, within a charity context. Some within the commercial arena may view our stakeholder approach as too soft or even a weakness. However, we will persevere within a collaborative set up as we believe that strength comes from co-creating our solutions with experts in their field.
Then there is the matter of management style of the commercial operation, and whether that style should be completely separate from and uninfluenced by that of the charity. We believe it is necessary to focus on the specific initiatives as separate streams within the charity group.
We have positioned Arthr as a standalone, but also as very much part of the Versus Arthritis group culture. This means that we do respect the policies and values of the charity but have the flexibility to develop the commercial initiatives as a start-up typically would.
The style should be agile and focused on a customer backwards approach. This agility is something that provides real value to the development of the charity’s ongoing model. We believe that the winning formula is to combine the strengths of the charity with the dynamism of a start-up. This wouldn’t necessarily change too much during the upsizing phase.
The by-product of this “social venture with a commercial bite” is that 100% of Arthr’s profits will be invested back into the fight against arthritis. Our ambition is to meet the needs of half a million people with arthritis over the next three years.
Here are some tips for charities looking to seek alternate income streams:Here are some tips for charities looking to seek alternate income streams:
- Identify where the biggest opportunity lies for your charity to meet needs.
- Accept that if you want to diversify your income, you need to both leverage assets and build on your skills and talent. It is impossible to do everything yourself and you will need to outsource to experts. For example, we are working with an online retailer to handle the distribution and delivery of its products to customers and have sought the support and skills of many stakeholders to make our vision a reality.
- Focus on a clear strategy and simple business plan
- Keep the charitable contribution and purpose front of mind throughout, despite the focus on commercial.
- Consider positioning the commercial activity outside of the charity culture, to enable a start-up culture to develop.
The response to the launch of Arthr, owned by Versus Arthritis, has been incredible and every day I am humbled by the support and generosity we have been shown. We have built up a passionate community; an ecosystem of stakeholders, these being retailers, users, healthcare professionals, volunteer groups - all with a vested interest and common purpose to move this market forward.
If charities can take one positive away from this current pandemic it’s the renewed community spirit in which the sector has creatively and positively responded to these challenges. The key to success, in my opinion, is start by building your venture from the people you want to serve backwards – and the rest to follow.
If ever there was a time for charities to be brave, creative and more commercially stable it’s now.
Pilotlight is a charity which connects Pilotlighters (its business members) with charities to unlock solutions that help them become more effective and sustainable. Since 2003 the charity has worked with more than 1,800 Pilotlighters like myself who have served as mentors and coaches for over 800 charities and social enterprises in the UK, all tackling disadvantage.
A large proportion of Pilotlighters return year after year to participate in this shared learning experience. Indeed it is a two-way process as will become apparent, involving a recognition by business mentors of the achievements of charity leaders so far.
Let me first tell you about myself to show what business people like me can and do bring to the table. I am a Pilotlighter who has coached the leaders of five youth, welfare and community charities, each time forming part of a team of other private and public sector leaders.
I am CEO of Smartstream Reference Data Utility, a company which delivers data to financial institutions. I was a long-serving manager at Thomson Reuters, latterly running its $6bn global business providing services and technology to the financial services industry. As my commitment to Pilotlight deepened, I joined the board of trustees of the charity.
Synthesis of skills
My experience of coaching five charity leaders has shown me that the skills for success in business are almost identical to those for running a charity. There is a constant focus on revenue. Perhaps I was naïve because, at first, it shocked me how much time and effort go into funding.
Each charity has been completely different but in every case it has been seeking to secure funding either through contracts, grants or donations to enable it to continue and help more beneficiaries. With each charity I’ve been part of a team of business coaches whose key role was giving the charity chief the space to brainstorm about where they’d like to take the charity. Sometimes our greatest value has been to give them courage in their convictions when facing difficult decisions that require significant changes.
One charity leader who I have tremendous respect for is Fiona Stobart, CEO at Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland. Just like me and leaders of any business, a charity chief is constantly faced with short term issues and Fiona has spoken openly about the risk of losing sight of the longer term strategy.
Having a dedicated team of coaches and a project management team behind her gave her the focus and structure to channel her passion, to think big and implement changes. Seeing the benefits of long term strategic planning for each charity reaffirms and supports my approach to future-proofing my own business.
Remembering the charitable context
Then there is the need for business mentors not to lose awareness of the charitable context. As Gillian Murray, the CEO of Pilotlight, says: “In my experience, business people new to the charity sector need to be reminded that social objectives are the key driver for charities. Otherwise there’s a risk that a business perspective may lead them to look for growth for growth’s sake. Understanding that growth is not the only, or best measure of success for a charity is fundamentally important.
“The key question is, is the charity more effective in making a difference to the lives of those it was set up to serve? That said, the very fact that business people are coming from a different perspective means they ask a lot of questions – and charities may find it really useful (if occasionally uncomfortable) to have to articulate in the clearest possible, and ideally succinct, way what the difference is that they are trying to make.”
I’ve worked with many different business leaders who’ve successfully coached charities and no matter how senior they are in their career, they have all been continual learners. So much so that some business leaders have confessed to feeling nervous at the start of a charity engagement because they feel there’s so much they don’t know about the sector.
Stepping out of your bubble
There’s no greater way to develop your own leadership skills than stepping out of whatever professional bubble you’re in and immersing yourself in a different set of challenges and approaches. With the exception of the specifics of charity fundraising, I’ve not needed to have much prior knowledge or to do many things differently in order to give realistic and workable advice to charities, particularly because the project managers at Pilotlight have plugged any sector specific gaps. I had expected to need to adapt my usual style or traverse a minefield of differences and sensitivities.
On every Pilotlight programme I’ve learnt from the highly varying approaches and personal styles of the respective charity leaders as well as my fellow business coaches. Particularly when one has spent a long time in the same organisation, role or sector, this rare opportunity to broaden your perspectives and see how different leaders think about challenges is very eye-opening.
One colleague told me that the experiential learning on the Pilotlight Programme was far more incisive than a leadership course at INSEAD that he’d recently taken. The different perspectives I’ve witnessed among civil society leaders have opened my eyes and made me think harder about challenges in my own work environment.
I enjoy bringing teams together to solve difficult problems. Every professional achievement of mine has involved a group effort. When working with the best charity leaders, I have been impressed at how deftly they have rallied their staff around shared values and interests. Commercial leaders can learn a lot from charities about aligning staff behind a mission in order to motivate them and get the best results. We’re increasingly hearing of businesses which adopt a campaigning mentality and charities are an obvious source of best practice and inspiration in this regard.
Charity leaders’ broad range
Many in the business world rise to great seniority by continually developing deeper expertise in a particular business function or sector yet they often don’t get enough exposure to executive level decision making. The charity leaders I’ve worked with demonstrate great business range as they rarely rely on an army of specialist managers in HR, legal and marketing for example. Depending on the societal issues they address they also need to have a clear understanding of many different networks and systems – from the business world to central and local government.
Gaining a broad “systems view” of the complex environment in which their partner charity operates is something that will be invaluable as business leaders progress to the board table. For other business coaches, working for a sustained period with a charity leader is ideal preparation for non-exec director and advisory roles.
Low margin for error
Many charities operate under extreme uncertainty or even existential threat. This drives them to closely monitor their external climate and seek to influence it. How many businesses can truly say they operate under such pressure that one unfavourable external decision could see them go under? Commercial leaders should also scan their external environment and conduct scenario planning, even when no apparent crisis looms.
Customer service and change management
An impressive charity leader who I have learnt from is Jackie Snape, CEO at Disability Action Yorkshire. The charity had been running a residential disability centre and everything the residents were telling them was that residential care was not what people wanted. She was looking strategically at care for people in their homes.
Jackie’s customer-centric approach and her mantra of imploring service users to “tell us what you want, and we will help you find it” rivals the best customer service initiatives I’ve seen in the commercial world. Her consultative approach to handling change was very impressive and necessarily so, as she is dealing with people’s lives. This gave me great food for thought.
Appreciating the charity sector
My biggest surprise in my early experience as a Pilotlighter was a newfound appreciation of the scale of the charity sector and the fact that the passion and professionalism of the leaders I’d met had exceeded my already high expectations. Engaging with their different challenges and seeing the passion and dedication of charity leaders continue to be enjoyable, rewarding and inspiring.
Matchmaking and facilitation
The relationship between charities and business supporters needs to work both ways. Businesses are getting much smarter about how they work with charities. Each of us is generally time poor and wants to make the greatest impact in a small amount of time so it is important for us to be matched with the right charity and to ensure the interaction is carefully facilitated.
It’s easy to underestimate the effort needed to keep a sustained engagement between a charity and business leaders on track. As well as appealing to businesses’ desire to do the right thing and contribute to community causes, it’s important to recognise that business people are likely to learn a great deal from you in the process.
More and more employees in the private sector have been involved in charitable giving or providing support to local community initiatives. For the most part, individual members of staff, teams and employers alike feel they have achieved something positive. However, recent research suggests that all may not be what it seems. The research was undertaken to better understand how businesses, charities and community groups work together and it delivers some very interesting results.
The overwhelming majority of people taking part in the research (91%) of those questioned agreed that working with communities can benefit the employees of a business as well as community volunteers, in developing new skills and experience. However, while the majority of businesses felt that their experiences partnering with charities or community groups had been positive, the opposite opinion is held by those same charities and community groups.
It seems there is a mismatch in expectations and needs, and that one partner often doesn’t fully understand what the other is expecting from the relationship.
From the business perspective, many of those interviewed actively supported charities. However, when interviewed, their view was that the relationship was often one-sided, with insufficient feedback from the partner on the way a campaign or initiative was developing and what, precisely the company’s involvement was helping to deliver. This was particularly common where a business was involved with a small local charity or community group.
Businesses also expressed concern that once they had offered financial support there was no cap on their giving. They often felt obliged to continue to provide funding.
Meanwhile, several charities expressed surprise that companies expected them to organise volunteering days for large numbers of staff. The feedback from several charity representatives was that they weren’t purely seeking funding. Provision of specialist skills - such as assistance with management processes, accounting or marketing - is often more useful than pure financial support.
With all this in mind, the following advice is offered to both sides, and first to businesses:
- Don’t automatically expect your chosen charity to organise volunteering days for you. It may not have the resources, the projects or indeed the finances to arrange this.
- Do offer specialist skills. Often, the value of your team’s expertise is greater than money alone. See what the charity is short of, skills-wise, and see how you can match these.
- Do set a limit on time, materials or financial contributions and make this clear to the partner at the outset. Agree what you will, and will not, provide and try to set some ambitions for both your company and the charity partner.
And now to charities; this is what they should be doing:
- Be clear about what you expect and what, if anything, the company partner can expect in return. It may appreciate a monthly update on project progress, stories for its company website or more specific key performance indicators.
- Remember that companies need to make a profit. They may give generously, but their time is money. Basic courtesies such as arriving on time for a meeting are important.
- Consider what you can give back. Often, allowing your business partner to gain a better understanding of local community needs is valuable to its business and its team. Offer to present a brief summary of what your charity has achieved, or why the particular problem that you are addressing exists in society.
Skills based volunteering valued
The research highlighted that although financial donations are important to charities, provision of skills based volunteering is viewed as one of the most valuable aspects of charitable giving.
It also emerged from the research that there is a real need for improved communications between the parties and within organisations themselves. Proposals for eliminating the gap in understanding between businesses and charities, and improving partnering to deliver positive outcomes include local networking and better signposting of the large amount of excellent information that already exists.
A number of barriers to effective collaboration were identified during the research. It became apparent that although both parties really want the relationship to succeed, there were some important gaps in each side’s understanding of the other’s operating procedures.
The research found that most larger charities employ senior staff who have direct experience in working for large corporates. In fact, large charities are likely to have more knowledge of the workings of big business than vice versa. It was also clear that smaller charities frequently don’t appreciate the way businesses operate, such as scheduling, commercial agreements and delivery commitments.
Smaller charities need guidance
Large charities are completely familiar with media and marketing. They understand how to pitch an opportunity to potential business partners in a compelling way, whereas smaller charities often need guidance in basic business skills, both to help them communicate with companies and also to aid in improving their own communications.
There is a widening gap between small local charities and large national charities, in terms of their ability to: attract and retain business support, differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market, achieve access to contacts in potential sponsor businesses and understand what a business wants from a relationship. Access to trained professional fundraisers, marketing staff and business relationship personnel is also frequently an issue for smaller charities.
The flip side is that businesses often don’t appreciate the value which engaging with a charity can bring. These benefits include: improved knowledge of the opportunities and challenges within a local community, better understanding of the local workforce, and access to specialist skills, particularly relating to personnel and HR issues, physical and mental health and wellbeing.
However, it appears that businesses can often treat charities as minority partners, believing that they have little to offer in return for the business’ support.
On a positive note, businesses and charities have similar ideas of what they would like to achieve from collaborating with each other and how they could all benefit. All agree that there are mutual benefits in collaborating with another organisation. Businesses are able to improve their reputation (the most mentioned benefit claimed by businesses during the research), which potentially leads to opportunities such as more work locally.
Yorkshire-based BIU Group has raised almost £8.5m for good causes since it was formed in 2005, with beneficiaries including a cancer treatment centre, various air ambulance charities, children’s hospices and a number of search and rescue organisations.
With around 40 partners in both the corporate and charity sector, BIU’s innovative business model allows us to thrive both as a commercial enterprise and as a provider of revenue for good causes. In fact, our blueprint for success featured in the 2017 Parliamentary Review, outlining how working with long term corporate partners can also benefit the charity sector.
We also work closely with waste management companies, supermarkets, retailers and local authorities, reducing landfill, and are proud to be associated with sustainable initiatives such as Love Your Clothes as well as the SCAP 2020 commitment, which sees leading organisations from across the clothing sector working together to reduce the environmental footprint of clothing.
What is crucial to the way we work with our various partners, including the charities, is that they are aligned to our objectives and ways of partnership working. On our part we are aware of our responsibilities to properly liaise and take the lead in coordinating.
Revenue streams for charities
We are part of Textile Recycling International, a group of companies tasked with offering a range of services for charities, local authorities, retailers and waste companies. In a nutshell, we recycle clothes, shoes and household textiles to provide a regular, sustainable revenue stream for our charity partners. Partnerships are governed by our Charity Partnerships Agreement, with an agreed rate from the sale of each kilo.
This diverts thousands of tonnes of textiles each year that would otherwise have ended up in landfill, which in turn helps local authorities with their zero waste ambitions, while providing a sustainable revenue stream for our charity partners.
Donations from the public are collected in our patented recycling banks, which are made from reinforced steel, fitted with anti-theft devices and keyless locking mechanisms that prevent donated goods from being stolen. Goods are then collected by our drivers and taken to depots before being sorted and graded.
Around 75% of items are reusable clothes and textiles, which are resold across Europe, the Far East, Africa and Asia where demand is high for quality British fashion. Less than 0.5% of the remainder is recycled into goods such as industrial wipers, insulation, mattress filling and new fibres.
Selecting the right partner
Our specialism is to work with charities where the money raised directly benefits the community where the fundraising has taken place. For example, proceeds from donations to a Wigan Warriors Community Foundation bank will be given directly to that cause. Health is an important area, with partners including air ambulance charities, cancer research and hospices. We work with our partners on a long term basis, in many cases providing valuable insight and support to the charity itself.
The selection process for our corporate partners begins before the clothing banks are placed – they must be sited in appropriate locations with the correct permissions. The high standard of our banks is not only important to land owners; our collection drivers also strive to leave sites clean and tidy, with the aim of discouraging fly-tippers and attracting a better quality of donations from the public.
Site owners join our milestone scheme, a programme run jointly between us and the charity partner that provides feedback on how much money has been raised, how many bags have been donated and notifications of significant milestones reached. Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, for example, recently reached the £1m raised milestone. As a result of this, each site host received a thank you card with details about this achievement.
We choose our charity partners carefully, to ensure a good fit within our specialism of health and community-based organisations. Making sure each charity is fully on board with our aims enables a more straightforward process when collective decisions are made – the partnership has to be right for both parties.
Communicating with partners
Honesty and transparency are at the heart of everything we do and are absolutely key to how our partnerships work. We like to ensure charity staff and volunteers are fully aware of how our scheme works and offer meetings, tours of the depot and presentations to illustrate how we work.
Quarterly reports are provided with details of each current scheme, outlining areas of potential growth, putting a spotlight on particular bank locations and hosts in addition to highlighting events attended for the charity. If required, a follow-up meeting can be arranged.
Communication is very much a two-way street. We also receive regular reports from our partners, which in addition to including general information may be in the form of impact reports, which are also shared with supermarkets and local authorities who host the banks.
This “open book” policy has always served us well. As we already work to the highest standards, recent changes and developments have not affected us and in some cases have strengthened our partnerships.
We even consult our partners about stock selling policies outside the UK. We can’t control global events but we can ensure we have a flexible business model. The textile price crash in 2014-15, for example, was out of our hands, but the fact that we kept our partners fully informed on every aspect of the business allowed them to plan for a reduced income accordingly.
I would urge charities to look very carefully at companies they are considering partnering with before committing to a scheme. While the aim will be to raise money, this should be done in an ethical and sustainable manner with a long term partnership as the goal, not merely which business may pay more for a service at one point in time.
We have found that sometimes smaller charities need more guidance at the beginning of the partnership in terms of compliance. In fact, we recently sought guidance from the Fundraising Regulator on our solicitation statement to ensure we were exceeding requirements and were as transparent as possible. As a result, a new statement has been approved unanimously by all our charity partners; this will be added to each clothing bank.
A charity partnership example
One of our longest-standing partners is the Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA). We have worked together since 2005 with 260 textile recycling banks located in supermarkets, car parks and household waste sites across Yorkshire.
YAA provides two state of the art emergency response air ambulances to save lives across the Yorkshire region, both of which are fitted out with the latest medical equipment suitable for around 1,250 missions carried out every year.
While its paramedics are seconded from the NHS, the YAA is totally reliant on donations to raise the £12,000 a day – or £4.4m a year – needed to keep both its air ambulances in the air to serve a population of around five million people across four million acres.
Since BIU Group partnered with the YAA, we have raised more than £2.7m for the charity. In fact, we recently signed a new five-year partnership contract that further cements our long term relationship and will see the number of recycling banks continue to grow for many years to come.
The charity’s director of fundraising Garry Wilkinson says the scheme had not only helped to save many lives across the county, the long-term nature of the partnership has allowed YAA to plan for the future. “We count this partnership as a huge success,” he says.
Members of the public wanting to donate specifically to the charity can find their nearest YAA recycling bank through the online bank locator on our website.
Employee commitment to partnerships
Every member of the BIU Group team is a vital cog in the wheel of our partnerships and more. Our culture of empowerment and excellence reaches beyond our charity partnerships and is instilled in every individual in our workforce, from collection drivers to depot managers. Empowerment, accountability and responsibility are key to ensuring we are all working towards the same goals, including zero waste and a lower carbon footprint, and of course making our partnerships work.
"Once that initial contact has been made, you need to maintain your professional approach by tracking your progress systematically."
"One of the main things corporations look for when dealing with charities is a professional attitude and a business-like approach."
"Ensure the corporation is kept up to speed with how you operate and what timescale you are working to..."
Cultivating a corporate relationship is something that almost all charities could benefit from but, more often than not, charities with little experience of corporate relationships approach this delicate collaboration in such a way that they fail to achieve the full potential of the relationship and, in some cases, lose the opportunity altogether.
There are tools and approaches any charity can use to encourage corporate supporters and build a mutually beneficial and long term relationship, but they need to understand how corporates work and how to engage with them on their own terms.
The relationship between a corporation and a charity is two-way because, as well as benefiting from the publicity, the corporate will often have a CSR (corporate social responsibility) remit. However, the charity clearly stands to benefit more substantially through support and donations and, because there will always be other charities clamouring for the attention of large businesses, the onus for developing the relationship falls firmly on the charity.
There are a number of ways to gain value from association with a corporation. Financial donations are probably the most obvious goal, either in the form of a chunk of the budget some large businesses set aside for CSR purposes, or through becoming the corporation’s "pet charity" with staff fundraising on your behalf.
However, there are many other ways charities can benefit which are often overlooked in favour of the more obvious financial incentive. Many charities would do well to consider these other forms of involvement as both a sensible way to receive support which will help the charity develop, grow and overcome challenges, and as a "soft" opportunity for corporates to get to know a charity before contributing financially.
So how do you start to build that relationship? Simply asking for support – in non-financial form - from corporate organisations can help your charity achieve specific goals and projects by making use of the skills and expertise of businesses. Some of the most successful initiatives come via pro bono adviser networks which link charities to corporate volunteers who donate their expertise, knowledge and time on a free basis.
Support in areas such as marketing, human resources, financial services, procurement and legal advice are "donated" without any financial involvement yet are invaluable to the charities which benefit.
Once your charity is involved with a corporation, even in a non-financial arrangement, the door has been opened to further progress that relationship. Any connection with a company gives you the opportunity to build trust and demonstrate your professionalism so that entering into a financial arrangement further down the line is more appealing than approaching a corporate "cold".
"Warming up" a business before expecting them to donate financially is a vital step in the relationship building process. Instead of a scattergun approach to finding a corporate supporter – a quick look on Google and an ineffective mail shot campaign, for example - most charities will find they have a higher success rate if they take a more targeted and informed approach to finding a suitable corporation to work with.
Look for businesses in your immediate vicinity which have a track record of helping charities like yours and whose mission and brand values align with your own.
The first step is to do your research thoroughly. Ask your trustees if they have any links to businesses which may be interested in supporting your charity and, when you do identify a corporate that could be a suitable match, research their trustees and board members to see if you can identify any connection. Do any of the people you’ve researched have a reason to hold your cause close to their own hearts, for example?
Remember that you are building a relationship with an individual initially. Hopefully this will then lead to involvement with the wider corporation, but creating warmth between your charity and one influential individual is far more effective than a ‘Dear Sir/Madam/To Whom It May Concern’ approach. You need to try to convince the person, not a blank business, but aim for the person at the top of the company, or as close to the top as you’re able to get.
The next step is to educate that individual about your charity and what you are working towards achieving. It goes without saying that corporate support is more likely to be forthcoming if they feel passionately about your cause. Invite your targeted individual to any events your charity is hosting, invite them to see the charity in action.
If they have a particular favourite local sports team, see if you can arrange an event involving the club’s stars who usually have their own community remit to fulfil and may be able to attend as Special Guests at dinners or events. Their involvement can be a big draw for appealing to potential corporate supporters and, once involved, both parties can learn more about your charity.
Once that initial contact has been made, you need to maintain your professional approach by tracking your progress systematically. Have they opened any of the emails you’ve sent? Have they attended an event you’ve invited them to? Have they expressed an interest in seeing the work of your charity first hand?
Charities should rank the warmth of potential supporters and aim to increase that level of warmth over time BEFORE asking for definite support. By taking a methodical and detailed approach to ascertaining their level of responsiveness towards your charity, you will be able to see clearly and quickly which individuals are keen to develop a further relationship and which are less keen on progressing.
Every charity should have a list of corporations and individuals within these corporations who they are targeting over a period of time. For a large charity this list could include as many as 100-200 possible connections at any one time as the rejection rate when asking for monetary support is high. One should view it as a pipeline process and accept that many targets will prove to be unsuitable or uninterested when explored further.
The more targeted you are in who you approach, the lower your rejection rate will be and the more efficiently you will use your time and resources in the pursuit of corporate support. If a prospect’s warmth appears to be waning despite your best efforts, record why you discontinued your approach
This will help avoid duplication of efforts when you research potential supporters in the future. In some cases you may feel that their level of interest in your charity is determined by other issues such as unsuitable timing, current preoccupation with an important business situation or prior involvement with another charity which may come to an end at some point. If so, make a note that you have discontinued your approach because of poor timing and make a point of keeping in touch.
To work in a structured and systematic way to try and identify leads, create "warmth" and build relationships may take more time, effort and organisation than you anticipated but working in this way is more important than ever. One of the main things corporations look for when dealing with charities is a professional attitude and a business-like approach.
As professional fundraisers, used to working with businesses in this way, have dropped off the payroll for many charities due to budget cuts, the quality of approach to corporates has actually reduced. This provides a clear opportunity for those willing and able to adopt their skilled and highly professional approach.
Corporates tend to move faster than charities simply because of the nature of business and the amount of staff they have. Expectations for calls to be returned promptly, documents to be produced quickly and decisions to be made assertively are high in corporations routines, and any interactions with a charity are usually expected to be conducted with this same fast-paced attitude.
For charities struggling with lower staffing levels, this rapidity can feel daunting but the charities which are successful in forging productive relationships with business organisations are those which accept they need to interact with them on their own terms. This means adopting their methodical attitudes and working to their timescales.
Bear in mind that any corporation offering support will also have certain expectations in return – they need to be kept informed about what their donation has done for your charity so they can use it in their own PR work. This means that making sure you keep them informed, keeping records and regularly reporting back in a systematic way is vital. You obviously want the relationship between you to be long term so make sure you meet their own criteria for CSR involvement and give them what they need in return.
Remember to let them know you appreciate their support and demonstrate how their money has helped you in a concrete way. Ensure the corporation is kept up to speed with how you operate and what timescale you are working to, so as to minimise any misunderstanding as it may be different to the timescale they have in mind.
Make sure you are communicating with them clearly, efficiently and regularly to let them know what you need from them, and when. Consider their situation - be sure to forward plan far enough in advance for a business to be able to organise staff rotas or resources up to six months ahead to allocate staff to a particular project, for example. Put yourself in their position and try to understand what their motivation is in offering you their support and what they need from you in return - then meet their expectations.
If your charity is able to rise to this challenge and work in a professional way, you have the opportunity to stand out in the crowded "marketplace" of charities competing for corporate support as one of the few organisations in the sector which can operate in this way. If you don’t have a professional fundraiser in your own charity, you need to act like one and be reliable and methodical in your approach.
Like all forms of fundraising, corporate fundraising is about relationship building and relationships are a delicate balance of give and take. Too many charities focus heavily on what they can "take" from a corporation and wonder why they struggle to form the associations they want. Charities which are successful in generating income from corporate relationships are those which don’t forget to focus on the "give".
If you want to know the secret to building successful corporate relationships - it is to put yourself in the shoes of your potential partner. Ask yourself "What would make me want to support you?". And then do everything in your power to deliver it.
"Once that initial contact has been made, you need to maintain your professional approach by tracking your progress systematically."
"One of the main things corporations look for when dealing with charities is a professional attitude and a business-like approach."
"Ensure the corporation is kept up to speed with how you operate and what timescale you are working to..."
I want to talk about our successful Charity of the Year partnership with Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Scotland and how lessons learned will help with our ground-breaking role as a Principal Partner with BBC Children in Need. This is the first time ever that BBC Children in Need has created a new higher partnership category – Principal Partners which provide incremental support to the charity’s fundraising income; and Lloyds will be its exclusive Schools Partner for the next three years, as well as adopting it as our charity partner for the next two years.
Lloyds Banking Group launched its two-year charity partnership with Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Scotland in January 2013 with the aim of raising £2 million to fund the 'Live Well' campaign, the charity's first ever UK-wide support programme for people with dementia and their carers.
This was only the second time the group had entered a two-year charity partnership, having realised from previous annual relationships with charities that a longer period would provide even more time to build a more sustainable and meaningful relationship between the charity and bank colleagues.
The Charity of the Year element of the BBC Children in Need partnership is also for two years, from January 2015 to December 2016, with the broader Principal Partnership and schools campaign running over three school years.
Selecting a partner
As a bank whose branch network touches almost every community across the UK, we place immense value on our commitment to 'Helping Britain Prosper' and within our public commitments we place a very strong focus upon our community support and giving. Our charity partnerships are extremely important to us – not only do they drive engagement and colleague pride across our workforce, they also help us demonstrate the immense value we place on supporting our communities.
We look to support charities which our colleagues and business can connect with and have seen that charities with an emotive or personal connection or which deliver in the communities in which we live and work, are very quickly taken to the hearts of our colleagues and supported robustly by them. Prior to Alzheimer’s we supported Save the Children, and it's clear from the results of those partnerships that our colleagues want to support causes which help make a real difference to the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.
We believe there were two core reasons our colleagues wanted to support Alzheimer’s charities:
- Many colleagues had first-hand experience of the impact dementia had on their own families and were inspired to fundraise because of that experience. Almost half of people in the UK know someone, or have known someone with the condition – as many as 45,000 of our own colleagues.
- Many colleagues had witnessed long standing customers exhibiting signs of memory loss or dementia, who seemed to lack the capacity to manage their personal finances.
Raising awareness of dementia and money to help people with the condition as well as their carers, which many of our colleagues are, was therefore a truly compelling and motivating prospect for colleagues. Working in partnership with Alzheimer’s Society, we also helped lead the way in building simpler processes that could be used across the financial services industry, helping us all become more dementia-friendly.
We also worked with the charity to jointly launch the Dementia Friendly Financial Services Charter as the lead bank and established a set of landmark protocols at a time when the financial services sector was viewed with a level of mistrust. Hence we were proud to be seen to be making a difference in this important area and where 76% of sufferers and their carers had reported of difficulties when dealing with banks, building societies, insurance companies etc.
This year, in line with our Helping Britain Prosper Plan, our charity partnership needed to align with our broad community themes of Education, Employability and Enterprise. With our BBC Children in Need partnership being much bigger than the Charity of the Year aspect, our steering committee and board selected the partnership, picking up on the insights gained from previous partnerships and understanding what motivated our colleagues and what they cared about as evidenced by their previous and unstinting support of children’s charities.
Indeed the work undertaken within our contact centres to collect donations for BBC Children in Need has long been popular with colleagues who will have the opportunity to help steer the direction of this new partnership.
Charities with the ambition to work with corporate partners need to recognise the importance of the significant level of resource required to manage such a partnership. Lloyds Banking Group has some 85,000 colleagues across almost every community within the UK.
We have a full-time small team managing Charity of the Year activity and need our partner to be responsive and understand the demands that a partnership of this size can have. Smaller charities, with an ambition to operate with a large corporate partner will need to evidence they have considered this aspect and be able to discuss how they will scale up to resource a nationwide partnership of this scale.
Mobilising colleagues long term
As a large business, with so many colleagues geographically spread across the UK, mobilisation of the workforce could be a challenge. But we recognise the need to ensure that we communicate our messages effectively and reach everyone who wants to play an active part in our fundraising campaign, as well as motivating and inspiring others to take action.
Our Charity of the Year team is very visible and takes part in team meetings across the business, motivating, informing and simply explaining how the money raised, no matter how little, will change lives. We also have a monthly steering committee, made up of directors from every key area of our group who play a key role in supporting fundraising activity, cascading information to their respective teams. They are ably supported by over 1,000 charity champions.
One of our greatest resources is being able to utilise the strengths of different colleague groups to support our charity partnerships. For example, our 180 graduates were set a ten month challenge which focused on three aspects: to fundraise, increase awareness of dementia, and to present a business case on how Lloyds could improve our offering to customers and colleagues living with dementia.
Teams were set a fundraising target of £12,000 each and the competitiveness of the challenge, together with their engagement and dedication saw most teams exceed their target and help to raise awareness of dementia both at work and in their local communities. We will be tapping into our graduates again for the BBC Children in Need partnership.
We have learned when delivering a charity partnership across different functional areas - such as our retail branches, corporate business, call centres or head office functions - that one size rarely fits all. By that we mean that a fundraising campaign which appeals to call centre colleagues may not work with our retail branches.
As a customer facing organisation we need to ensure that our charity activity doesn’t interfere with our ability to support our customers as they go about their business as usual activities. We may tailor specific campaigns to appeal to our different colleague audiences. For example, 'Tea and Talk' events were specifically developed for retail colleagues, whereas supporting the BBC Children in Need telethon is more effective for engaging call centre colleagues.
We work closely with our charity partner to develop campaigns which can engage as many colleagues as possible.
Whilst fundraising is crucial, to keep the momentum throughout the partnership, there needs to be another hook for colleagues to engage with. Not everyone is a fundraiser, so offering other opportunities - such as skills based volunteering, new awareness raising campaigns or training sessions - keeps the partnership fresh and exciting, therefore allowing the partnership to build a lasting legacy.
As part of our Helping Britain Prosper Plan, we are committed to being the banking group which brings communities closer together and helping them thrive and one of our targets is to deliver, through our colleagues, over 2.3 million hours of paid volunteering to support a range of community projects, by 2020. We are currently exploring opportunities with BBC Children in Need about how our colleagues can provide volunteer support in schools, ensuring that we adhere to best practice and legal guidelines about safeguarding and working with young people.
Providing support for colleagues
Colleagues are provided with lots of support to help them and let them know how much their efforts are valued, including fundraising idea packs and collateral, help with publicising their events, opportunities to volunteer during working hours as well as access to a bespoke hotline manned by a dedicated team.
During the Alzheimer’s partnership we had an Alzheimer’s Society employee based full time with the Charity of the Year team providing necessary insight and support on a day to day basis. With the BBC Children in Need partnership being considerably bigger and comprising not just the Charity of the Year element, we have a core relationship team of seven employees, with the support of the charity’s wider team, which replicates the team we have in place at Lloyds.
Having a team member from the charity seconded into our team is beneficial for both organisations and helps to streamline the relationship and maximise understanding of needs.
We have a plethora of online content that is shared with colleagues through our intranet; this is designed to drum up awareness and support of the charity partnership. A further strand that is extremely worthwhile is our extensive network of 'charity champions' – quite simply these are people with a passion for fundraising who offer local support and help colleagues throughout our branch and office network.
We continually update colleagues as to the group’s progress through every major fundraising milestone, publishing news articles and videos online that provide compelling stories. How colleagues raise money and the difference that makes to our chosen charity has an active audience and the amazing ability to further inspire and motivate.
We offer a range of fundraising projects for colleagues to engage with depending on how involved they want to be:
- EVENTS – these can be centrally planned by the Charity of the Year team and everyone has the opportunity to get involved e.g. our One Group quiz or cycling across Cuba challenge. These are easy for colleagues to support as all they have to do is participate.
- OFF THE SHELF– we provide colleagues with 'off the shelf' fundraising opportunities such as running the London Marathon. We cover the cost of entry and provide colleagues with a suggested fundraising target.
- TOOLKITS – all colleagues have access to a fundraising toolkit which showcases a range of opportunities they could participate in locally. Colleagues have the chance to choose what, if anything, they would like to do.
- COLLEAGUE PROJECTS – we also provide support and guidance to colleagues who have their own ideas for fundraising.
We have found that this approach provides the best opportunity to engage with as many colleagues as possible during the course of the partnership.
With the BBC Children in Need partnership we will also showcase not simply the activities undertaken by colleagues to help drive fundraising, but also our broader schools and customer facing campaigns, allowing us to further engage our colleagues through volunteering support.
We work very closely with our charity partners to offer colleagues a number of different compelling, but scalable, fundraising and volunteering activities. For branch colleagues during the Alzheimer’s partnership, one of our colleagues came up with the concept of 'Tea and Talk' events. These were aimed at raising awareness as well as money, and brought both customers and colleagues together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake to talk about their experiences of dementia.
We also committed to sign up at least 11,500 Dementia Friends across the Group, providing colleagues with an opportunity to develop and implement new skills directly as a result of the partnership.
We’re really excited about colleagues supporting local schools and young people to raise funds through our BBC Children in Need partnership. Indeed we've already had some wonderful feedback from colleagues who supported some of our 'test and learn' schools late last year.
Whilst we encourage colleagues to volunteer for our Charity of the Year we know that some also support other causes that are close to their heart. Our Day to Make a Difference taps into the energy and passion of our colleagues to help them volunteer for an organisation in their community. Community volunteering is offered by Lloyds Banking Group as an additional benefit for every colleague. Colleagues can take at least one day, or eight hours, to spend time in their community to make a difference. This is in addition to their annual leave allowance.
Delivery versus expectations
We set ourselves the target of raising £2 million in two years when we started the Alzheimer’s partnership. In fact, we raised well in excess of our target within the first 12 months and raised almost £7 million by the end of the relationship; exceeding our expectations more than three fold.
The extra money raised has funded a number of projects on top of the workshops for 9,000 carers which are running across the UK, including the provision of 200,000 dementia guides to those newly diagnosed, as well as contributing towards the Dementia Research Leaders Programme, a project aimed at prevention and ultimately seeking a cure, and finally an innovation fund that is encouraging creativity.
The relationships we build with our charity partners have been a key success driver. Working as one big cohesive team, communicating effectively and demonstrating an understanding of each other’s needs and priorities have been essential - as are the enthusiasm and dedication of all of our colleagues, of whom we are amazingly proud.
"Our charity partnerships...not only do they drive engagement and colleague pride across our workforce, they also help us demonstrate the immense value we place on supporting our communities."
"Our Charity of the Year team is very visible and takes part in team meetings across the business, motivating, informing and simply explaining how the money raised, no matter how little, will change lives."
"We have learned that when delivering a charity partnership across different functional areas such as our retail branches, corporate business, call centres or head office functions, one size rarely fits all."
JOHN STYRING, co-founder and chief executive officer of mainly children's book publisher IGLOO BOOKS, writes: When I looked out at the Channel for the first part of our seven-day challenge realising that I was going to have to row across it, I knew it had to be for a good reason. And it was. Our One Big Effort challenge raised £70,000 to help the work of Children with Cancer and gave me and eight brave employees an adventure none of us will ever forget
Together we ran four marathons, cycled from Paris to Calais, rowed across the Channel, ran from Dover to London and finally completed the London Marathon.
The challenge was at times gruelling, especially not knowing what lay ahead; and in the first leg there was an overwhelming feeling that we had all our work ahead of us. Normally at work we have a fair understanding of what’s going to come our way. But this time it was live – and we had an extra energy and sense of jeopardy because of that.
When we eventually reached the finish line (after seven exhausting days), I remember getting multiple “well done” comments and my hand shaken, as if I’d done something amazing. But the really good feeling was in knowing that the truly amazing work of a charity like Children with Cancer would be helped by our achievement.
Just as I could not have made it across the Channel alone, charities need the help of others. Businesses are in the privileged position of being able to support charities and their life-changing work. And it’s a great position to be in when you see how much everyone gets out of it.
We asked our employees and they agreed that charity work was one of the parts of the job that brought them most happiness. Besides an increase in morale and a reduction in stress, our employees who engaged in charity work were happier as they were able to "give something back".
I started these charity initiatives because I’ve always believed that a company which promotes helping others is going to generate a workplace where people feel good about their work – and that can only be a good thing.
The major reason for anyone to “do charity work” is of course to raise funds and support a good cause. But there are additional benefits for your team and the people who take part. I’m convinced you can achieve a more all-rounded and confidence building experience when you’re pulling together for a good cause than you can on any normal away day.
As a fast-growing company, there is always the risk that generating a profit will leave little time for charity work. However, there are always smaller, more accessible initiatives for when you’re starting out. We have now helped raise over £75,000 for the Prince's Trust and £100,000 total for Children with Cancer through fun annual events such as our summer fete, sports days and charity balls.
I chose to undertake the One Big Effort as a “serious” challenge, but it could have been anything. It was merely a vehicle. Every year we push the boundaries further, setting ourselves higher targets and stretching ourselves physically. For us, these challenges are really just another way of doing our bit. And that’s all social responsibility is, really: an ethos of always giving back. Encourage it and you’ll find you get back more than you expect.
Sanofi launched its new Charity Partner initiative two years ago, working with the Teenage Cancer Trust. Over the course of the partnership employees from across the Sanofi Group’s ten UK sites have raised over £150,000, and forged a genuine two-way relationship with TCT. Working in this new way has not only enabled employees to see the impact a longer term partnership can have, but has also fostered a renewed sense of engagement across the company, and has helped build a higher sense of purpose and pride in the work that we do.
Charitable work, particularly with patient associations or medical charities is an important element of all that we do at Sanofi, falling under the broader banner of our corporate social responsibility activities – these are built around the four pillars of: Patients, Ethics, People and Planet. Over the past few years, Sanofi UK & Ireland has focused on taking our CSR work to a new level with the launch of our Sanofi Inspires initiative.
Under the Sanofi Inspires banner, projects help build an understanding and a higher sense of purpose amongst our employees about why they are working for the company and all that we do.
Sanofi has a strong heritage when it comes to working with charities. Traditionally we have done this through a variety of channels, projects and initiatives – typically through our ongoing relationships with patient groups in areas of therapeutic focus close to us.
Of late, we have focused more on more corporate relationships, unrelated to our areas of therapeutic interest, and our Patient Group Bursary Scheme, which launched in 2011, complements these relationships by building partnerships with patient groups in the wider healthcare arena.
The launch of Sanofi Inspires enabled us to take a fresh look at our approach to charity work, and in doing so, we identified a need for a new way of working that would not only generate a genuine positive impact on society, but would also motivate the company’s workforce and the stakeholders they interact with.
The aim was to develop a more meaningful and lasting vision, one that we felt could only be achieved through a longer-term relationship. To this end, we made a decision to move away from what had been our traditional "charity of the year" approach to fundraising and looked to select our first Charity Partner – the Teenage Cancer Trust.
SELECTING A CHARITY PARTNER – FINDING THE RIGHT FIT. Embarking on this important decision, we started by drawing up a set of criteria to help guide the process and which would ultimately help us produce a shortlist of possible partners.
Our starting point was fairly easy – as a pharmaceutical company working with the aim of improving the lives of patients, it was natural that we would want to work with a partner aligned to our own company aims and the work which we do. Having said that, we were clear from the start that the partnership should stand entirely alone from our commercial priorities and that there should be a clear disconnect between the charity partner and our therapeutic areas of focus.
With increased employee engagement as a central driving force behind this new way of working, we felt it vital that the chosen charity not only had a national reach, but a broad remit and appeal. The Sanofi Group has ten different sites operating across the country, so we needed to ensure that the partnership would resonate with employees in all our business units across the UK.
With our shortlist in place, which was compiled over time both from speculative enquiries and from staff suggestions, we decided to put the final decision in the hands of our employees in the form of a vote. In seeking "buy in" from our colleagues from the start, we hoped to build support, endorsement and excitement for the partnership internally.
EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT AND A HIGHER SENSE OF PURPOSE FOR SANOFI. The success of our partnership to date has resided in our employees’ engagement, and this has manifested in a number of different forms. From the start and throughout the duration of the partnership we have continued to seek feedback and input from our employees on how the partnership with the Teenage Cancer Trust is valued across the company and how engaged employees feel about the initiative.
Similarly, we are always on the look out from our members of staff for new ideas and recommendations on how we can build on and continue to support the relationship.
The first year of our partnership saw employees pull together to raise over £50,00 for the Teenage Cancer Trust, which was a fantastic feat. However, as we approached the second year we focused further on how we could further build on this achievement and, through the partnership, instill a renewed sense of engagement and commitment at a company level.
It was at this moment that the Sanofi 1000 Mile Challenge, our most ambitious fundraising initiative to date, was born. This was a programme developed in collaboration with Teenage Cancer Trust, but was largely the inspiration of Ian O’Hare, Sanofi’s head of internal communication.
Centred around health and fitness activities, the initiative challenged Sanofi employees to collectively raise £100,000 by reaching 1,000 miles on the challenger total: every £100 raised by any employee, friend or family member added another mile to the challenge total. Overall a huge success, employees from all our sites went above and beyond to realise their potential and challenge themselves to go the extra mile, promoting wellbeing and personal growth along the way.
With the support of some corporately arranged activities, employees were encouraged to come up with their own initiatives and to step outside their comfort zone. Over the course of the year, we witnessed a range of impressive and ambitious challenges, from "The Big Monster Sea Swim", a 100 mile team swim in the West of England, to a 60 mile bike ride between the Genzyme head office in Oxford, to our Sanofi head office in Guildford.
Now in our third year of the partnership, it is vital that we keep the momentum going. One way in which we have achieved this is through our dedicated webpage on our Sanofi Inspires website. Regularly updated and designed to be interactive, the site features the latest news and updates from the Sanofi Challenge events, and provides useful information and tools supporting our employees in developing and taking part in their own initiatives.
The site plays a really important role not only in keeping our employees up to speed with progress against the challenge, but provides a means of sharing and celebrating successes and fostering a sense of collaborative engagement with the programme.
Sanofi UK & Ireland has witnessed a good deal of positive change in recent years, most notably with the integration of our companies Genzyme and Merial. Combined with the current economic climate, restructuring and its attendant insecurities have been part of that change, sharpening the need for us to build an esprit de corps.
That some of the fundraising challenges have linked different components of the "new Sanofi" is no coincidence. The partnership with Teenage Cancer Trust has provided our employees with an opportunity to work towards a common goal promoting engagement and collaboration internally.
MAKING THE CHARITY PARTNERSHIP SUCCEED. Working in a true and lasting partnership has enabled Sanofi not only to build long and lasting relationships with the Teenage Cancer Trust, but has also enabled our staff to see the impact of the hard work that they have put into the challenge to date. As well as the fundraising activity undertaken, many members of the Sanofi team have had the opportunity to visit the Teenage Cancer Trust units in hospitals, and to see the real life impact of the hard work that has been put into the programme.
Meanwhile, it is not unusual to see a patient advocate or representative of the Teenage Cancer Trust in the Sanofi offices whether it be giving a talk or working on a secondment!
However, in order for a partnership to be truly successful, it is important that it is perceived as a genuine two-way relationship which is nurtured and reinforced over time. On a day-to-day basis our Charity Partner team keep in close contact with the Teenage Cancer Trust, liaising with a dedicated group of account managers. Throughout this relationship, the Teenage Cancer Trust has continued to provide Sanofi with ongoing support for our fundraising activities, whether it be in helping generate media interest in fundraising events, providing celebrity supporters, or by providing advice and guidance to our team on approaches to our fundraising activities.
LESSONS LEARNED. One of our key learnings has been that whilst we recognise that a longer duration Partnership has helped promote a greater sense of wellbeing and purpose amongst our employees, the reservoir of staff energy can be exhaustive! Throughout the duration of the initiative, we have continued to think about how the approach to the partnership can be revitalised to foster a renewed sense of vigour amongst our employees.
Essentially we have understood that the approach to the partnership needs to continually evolve to remain fresh. As we move into the third year working with the Teenage Cancer Trust, we have reflected on the great efforts put in by our employees over the past two years, and are taking a new approach for year three.
We have already done some fantastic work with the Teenage Cancer Trust and look forward to continuing this successful partnership next year as we embark on a fresh "Challenge". Our fundraising activities will also be bolstered in 2013 with the launch of the Sanofi "Inspiring Communities" programme. This will enable the individual parts of the business to support the health and wellbeing of their local communities, taking the next steps to "going the extra mile together”.
"…we identified a need for a new way of working that would not only generate a genuine positive impact on society, but would also motivate the company's workforce and the stakeholders they interact with."
"…we are always on the look out from our members of staff for new ideas and recommendations on how we can build on and continue to support the relationship."
"…The partnership with Teenage Cancer Trust has provided our employees with an opportunity to work towards a common goal, promoting engagement and collaboration internally."
A McKinsey global survey on "The state of corporate philanthropy" (2007) established that the majority of CEOs surveyed agreed that generating high returns for investors should be accompanied by broader contributions to the public good. This demonstrates that the global business community has embraced the idea that it plays a wider role in society.
Increasingly businesses are publically scrutinised and investigated for unethical behaviour, as seen recently with banks and newspapers, and they are turning to charities to help them repair public relationships and build positive reputations.
Businesses recognise that they can build stronger relationships with their stakeholders through charitable alliances and cause related marketing, which can lead to their business realising bigger profits. Businesses want to demonstrate how their core products and services have the power to make a positive impact.
A report by Edelman (2012) found that 76% of global consumers believe it is acceptable for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time; this is a 33% increase globally from 2008. There are advantages for the charity involved too. After all this should be a mutually beneficial partnership, the most obvious of which are the financial benefits.
A carefully planned project can raise significant funds. Campaigns can involve creating and selling specially branded products, licensing the charity's "assets" and running co-branded events, all of which can bring in a substantial amount of money from consumers and supporters. The publicity and advertising that comes alongside a good project is invaluable.
Choosing the right partner
Choosing the right charity partner is crucial in implementing a successful partnership. There was once a time when partnerships were formed on the basis of the CEO's personal preference. Interactions between a charity and a corporation involved a ceremonial handing over of a big cheque and a hand shake; with the business leaving the brief relationship satisfied that the donation had provided itself and the charity with a good return on investment.
This strategy no longer serves businesses. Not unlike a good marriage, having the right partner can be blissfully fulfilling, with opportunities for both partners to retain their own identity and have their mutual needs met. However, choosing the wrong partner can result in an unbalanced relationship at best or an ugly divorce at worst.
Ensuring successful partnerships
Successful partnerships stem from satisfying a number of key requirements:
ALIGN VALUES. Finding a charity whose work and values are reflected in the company's mission is an important first step. Support of any charity is a good move, but finding one which complements its vision and its customers' values will maximise the rewards for the charity and the business. The charity should end up providing corporate initiatives with credibility and contact with customers and community to create a critical mass, addressing and advancing the issue.
The most powerful programmes are also "leader-led". Consumers want to see values-based leadership from companies and brands with a long term commitment to addressing societal issues.
The link between the two must be easy for potential supporters to see, otherwise it may be viewed with scepticism. It is not necessarily a bad thing to turn down a partnership if a link doesn't make sense as reputations could get damaged and a good cause could end up being perceived negatively. For example, in 2011 RBS announced that it would not be sponsoring Climate Week 2012 following accusations from campaigners of "corporate greenwashing" and hypocrisy due to RBS' involvement in financing high carbon and polluting industries.
Being wary of corporations
AVOID SCANDALS. Even if a link seems to fit, reputations can still be harmed through a corporation's actions, both past and present. In July 2011 British tabloid News of the World offered charities free advertising space in its final edition. However, rather than jumping at the chance of free publicity, a large number of charities, including Water Aid, RSPCA, Action Aid and the Salvation Army, rejected the offer.
Several charities were quoted as saying that it would have been inappropriate to take up the offer with the potential of upsetting their existing supporters. Keeping up to date with a business' actions and public image is essential both before and during a relationship. If something arises it may be a good idea to avoid or end a partnership.
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. As with any business relationship, the more the parties know about each other the better they work together. Relationships between charities and corporations are becoming more sophisticated. For example, the NSPCC has appointed a panel of law firms. Identify a trusted adviser, be it lawyers, accountants or bankers, and ensure that the advisers get to know your charity and what you do so that they are well placed to assist when needed.
Long term impact
FOCUS ON CAUSE RELATED MARKETING. Cause related marketing shouldn't just be a short term solution for raising quick funds; it should also be about raising long term awareness and supporters. To achieve this, the partnership will need continuous commitment from both sides, and as teams work closely together it is important for them to understand how each other works.
PRODUCE TRANSPARENCY. It is critical to adopt a mind-set of genuine partnership and collaboration. This means not treating charities like suppliers, but like equal partners. It means companies not directing partnership activities at the charity, but rather with it. It means not concealing "selfish" objectives but being transparent about corporate goals. Most importantly, it means finding an issue of common concern that collaborative activities can be based on.
ACHIEVE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT/RETENTION. Employees often perceive companies with strong community involvement as more attractive, giving a sense of pride. Companies have identified that there is an improvement in employee morale and commitment, fostering of talent through skills development, recruitment and relationships with communities.
DEVELOP CREATIVITY. According to Douglas Rouse, corporate partnerships director of Save the Children, it is important to keep partnerships with businesses fresh and creative making sure there is multiple engagement at multiple levels as it is important to bring the cause to life regularly. In order to make maximum impact, it is important to work on new and innovative ideas. Consumers and supporters need to see something different and interesting in order to give their full attention.
Example of success
An example of a successful partnership is one forged between Harrogate Spa and charity Pump Aid. By using existing brand presence from the Harrogate Water brand the partnership decided to develop a completely new bottled water brand solely to raise money for continuous water projects in Africa. The partnership established the Thirsty Planet brand in 2007.
Harrogate Spa's marketing budget was used in the planning and marketing of the specially created brand, with clear and cause related branding being designed and then promoted across various media platforms, including a strong social media campaign. Every bottle of Thirsty Planet water sold guaranteed a fixed donation to the charity Pump Aid. It's the equivalent to each bottle guaranteeing to provide 5,000 litres of clean water to designated projects in Africa.
The "Donation Guarantee" created is fully transparent as it is not dependent on profitability or how much the retailer sells. It was recognised there was a clear business benefit. Paul Martin, managing director of Harrogate Spa, says: "Sales grew 400% by associating my product with a good cause".
The partnership is still running successfully today, with over £1.4m being raised in the past four years. Consumers are able to watch the progress of Thirsty Planet via the website, which is updated regularly with the running total and the number of pumps that have been installed. Such a case study proves that when the right charity and business work together, consumers and supporters will listen and respond.
When charities focus on income generation they will more often than not get to the stage where they will ask themselves the question, "How can we get more corporate partnerships?". In an increasingly tough funding market, no-strings funding from a business with deep pockets can feel like the Holy Grail. As you can imagine, the reality is more complicated than it might first appear.
Here are some top tips for attracting, retaining and getting the most out of your corporate partners.
What you can offer
OFFER A SERVICE. Start thinking in terms of the service you as a charity can provide the company, and not only in terms of the company offering you philanthropy. Because repeat donors are the most profitable and rewarding, you want a long term relationship with a company. Whilst many companies nominate a "charity of the year", and it's lovely to be one, this by definition is always likely to be a short term relationship.
Great corporate partnerships are mutually beneficial. For a company, working with a charity can be a major contributor to organisational development, staff retention and team development. So as a charity work with potential partners to understand what their challenges and strategic plans are, and see what you can offer that meets both your needs and theirs.
Meet potential partners
It's also worth attending open days for large contracts which are due to be procured – you'll find details of them on sites like The Chest (the North West local authority procurement portal) – and by being on the mailing list for your local authority procurement team. The contract may be beyond your reach, or cover more services than you deliver- but it's a great way to meet potential private sector partners who may be motivated to work in partnership with you.
THINK WIDER THAN THE CSR TEAM. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the department within a company which is responsible for delivering the organisation's role as a corporate citizen. It will be the hub for most charitable partnerships and donations. However, they are also the most in demand, and in some cases will receive thousands of requests per week.
There is increasing pressure on private sector organisations to include third sector organisations within their supply chain, and an increasing recognition that external relationships with different organisations can add much to the knowledge and innovation capital of a team.
Talk to different departments
Work out how what you do can contribute to a company and consider which teams it may impact: talk to HR, Research and Development, Procurement and even Product Development. One has seen great success in the past where charities are able to tie their activity to a company's business development goals, especially around public sector procurement.
Many large corporates are significantly dependent on their ability to secure public sector projects which are competitively tendered in a very tough market. Being able to prove why they, as a public sector partner, offer significant social value can be a powerful differentiator – if your charity can help them do this they'll be willing to talk.
Great examples of this are where charities partner with building firms to offer services in new developments. Social firms and charities offering supported working placements can be a great value-added option to run cafe's or catering operations. This is widely done in the market – but too often the impetus comes from the private partner who then has to scrabble to find the right charity for the role.
LESS IS MORE. With new partnerships quality definitely beats quantity. Spend time working out the type of partner you would like, what you have to offer to them, and how a partnership might look, and then make contact. Blanket mail-outs or generic communications are unlikely to get you the result you want.
CHOOSE YOUR HOOPS. In order to create a successful corporate partnership there needs to be a very clear understanding from each side about what the organisations are seeking to gain. I would suggest that all such partnerships start with a document from each side outlining the aims and aspirations for their own organisation.
In many cases, for the partnership to be truly successful, from the corporate partner there will be some expectation around outcomes delivered and impacts measured. Charities are no strangers to the world of reporting, impacts, outputs and outcomes – but as with more traditional funders, there is a risk of unintended consequences.
Be comfortable at the outset
If you are only going to apply your assertiveness in one area, make it this one – really be sure that the things you are being asked to measure truly fit with your organisational strategy.
Whilst seeing the best in people is a great characteristic, imposed goals and targets have been shown to increase the risk of unethical behaviour.
If a target could incentivise you to tackle easier cases in preference to harder ones, or to choose one type of an outcome over another – no matter how unlikely you think that is to happen in practice, I would advise that you don't accept that target.
One great horror story from my own experience in this area was an environmental charity which partnered with a large plc to help it improve its environmental outcomes. One of the key performance indicators which was in operation for this partnership was an aim to "increase the volume of paper recycled". I'm sure you don't need further explanation to see how that target could lead to an unfortunate environmental mis-step.
THINK BEYOND THE MONEY. A very relevant survey (Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer 2011) published by corporate social responsibility firm C&E ) revealed that only 38% of the surveyed charities agreed that non-cash support could be of significant benefit, whereas 71% of businesses felt that it could. This clearly presents some opportunities for charities which are willing to think more widely about how corporates support them.
For instance, a furniture re-use charity recently we was able to get a great deal on some key equipment, but using the purchasing power of a corporate partner – the value of the discount amounted to a significant donation to funds.
More productive pro-bono
Pro-bono support has gained a slightly damaged reputation recently because sometimes it has seemed a little misdirected – having hordes of corporate employees parade through your facility to repaint a room may not be up your street. However, it could work more effectively if it was better directed in the first place. How much money could you save if a corporate partner undertook your book keeping rather than you outsourcing it to a private firm?
The same survey revealed that the corporate partnership between M&S and Oxfam was one of the most admired. In this partnership people donating to Oxfam receive a money-off voucher from M&S.
It's clear in this example why the partnership works so well. Retailers often use vouchers as part of their marketing – and benefit when people choose to shop in their stores in order redeem the voucher. Are you thinking creatively enough about where the opportunities for partnerships are?
Tackled confidently and strategically, building a relationship with a private sector organisation can bring huge benefits to both parties; but the benefits only come when appropriate time and thought are invested on both sides of the arrangement, and when each party is clear of the benefits they'll gain.
"…work with potential partners to understand what their challenges and strategic plans are, and see what you can offer that meets both your needs and theirs."