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Civil Partnerships?

26 September 2013

Dr Catherine Walker, Head of Sector Trends, Evidence, Analysis & Metrics at the Directory of Social Change, considers the sometimes harsh reality of corporate – charity partnerships

“The proper basis for marriage is a mutual misunderstanding.” Oscar Wilde

If Oscar Wilde is correct then we may be alright, but I fear he is not. Business partnerships are like personal relationships – they come in many shapes and sizes, short and long-term, casual and serious, they have their ups and downs, and generally need to be worked at. Partnerships between companies and charitable organisations are no different, however if charities are expecting a big rock and for companies to go down on their knees then they’re living in cloud cuckoo land.

The most lucrative charity of the year partnerships seem to be with either banks or supermarkets – the rich boys. But rich boys tend to want to hook up with rich and famous girls – household-name charities (e.g. Network Rail and Samaritans, Save the Children, GSK). Only a lucky few will get to wear the big, expensive dress: recent Charity of the Year partnerships have seen Tesco staff and customers raising £7.2 million for CLIC Sargent in 2010/11, Santander raising £600,000 for Alzheimer’s Society in 2011 and £900,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care in 2012.

And while some are more promiscuous (Shelter has 42 corporate partnerships) others struggle to get a partner at all. This is particularly true for those which are smaller, and cannot give the same publicity to a company’s contribution as the larger ones, or the less popular, such as those charities supporting ex-offenders or people dealing with drug addiction.

The reality is that corporate-charity partnerships won’t happen for everyone. The Directory of Social Change recently analysed the top 500 corporate givers in detail[1] and found that on average they give less than half a percent of their pre-tax profits to charity and this constitutes less than 2% of charities’ income in the UK.

There are other relationship issues: Charities and companies are very different partners, who sometimes struggle to understand each other. Traditional perceptions of charities seeing companies as ‘cash cows’ and companies perceiving charities to be ‘well-meaning but disorganised amateurs’ damage relationships. A recent C&E corporate-NGO partnership barometer survey found that 63% of companies agreed that: ‘Effectively harnessing my company’s competencies and noncash assets can make much more of an impact on our key NGO partners than our financial support’, whereas the majority of NGOs would prefer cash.

Charities are often the more idealistic partner with a desire for corporate partners to know and understand what they do, and it is often frustrating for charities and companies alike when their timelines for achieving project results do not match up[2].

Companies are often more transactional. A recent survey found that the most prevalent cause of a company rejecting a charity partnership was the fact that the partnership was not perceived to have a good enough return on investment[3]. Over 44% of companies which rejected a partnership cited this as the primary reason, a significant increase on previous years.

The power dynamic – real and perceived – probably does more to wreck corporate-charity partnerships than anything else. Each side should accept that it brings its own unique expertise to the marriage. So for better advice on partnership we might do better to look further back to Aeschylus who philosophised that:

“When a match has equal partners, then I fear not.” AESCHYLUS, Prometheus Bound

[1] The Company Giving Almanac by DSC, published June 2013 (

[2] CAF (2009), Helping companies helping charities: working together in and out of recession, West Malling, Charities Aid Foundation.

[3] C&E (2012), C&E Corporate–NGO Partnerships Barometer 2012, London, C&E Advisory Services.

Dr Catherine Walker – Head of Sector Trends, Evidence, Analysis & Metrics at the Directory of Social Change