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Demonstrating social value

18 June 2013
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Jilly Forster notes how Google’s Global Impact Challenge shows how commercial organisations can demonstrate their social value and gives some tips on how they can make, retain and develop good working partnerships with non-profits who eat, live and breathe social purpose.

How does a commercial business demonstrate social value? Given the direction that private business has taken, demonstrating social value in a credible way is not going to be easy.

Why not explore new types of partnership with organisations who eat, live and breathe social value. Not by appointing a Charity of the Year, but by working closely together with relevant organisations on mutually agreed goals.

If you’re in the technology business, you’re going to want to work with organisations that can demonstrate the social value of technology. Alongside Richard Branson and Tim Berners-Lee, I recently sat on the panel of Google’s Global Impact Challenge, a collaboration incentive to demonstrate the potential of technology for good – technology that teaches us how to behave differently for a positive social purpose.

The proposition, open to all UK charities, was simple: how would you use a technology-based solution to solve a global societal problem?  I was delighted to note from the 10 outstanding projects that have emerged out of the hundreds of entries Google received (viewable at how the UK Third Sector is the most dynamic and aspirational in the world.

As a result, four UK charities have each been awarded £500,000 and the promise of Google mentoring for a series of projects designed to tackle big world problems through technology.   And all other finalists received £100k each. The three winners were: Apps for Good, Solaraid and Integrity Action.  The fourth winner — the Zoological Society of London — was voted for by the public, with five million people viewing videos posted by the shortlisted projects.

Some of the issues tackled by the finalists seem to have an obvious technological angle, such as ZSL’s use of camera equipment to fight poaching or Amnesty International’s smartphone rapid response panic button for human-rights activists. Others show us how enlightened lateral thinking can bring about massive results. Age UK’s proposal, using the web to encourage the elderly to reminisce on their past and, as a byproduct, learn how to use the internet at a communication tool, is outstanding through its simplicity.

Most partnerships between commercial and third sector organisations will be on a smaller scale. But here are my five simple tips for charities and businesses alike on how to make the most of those partnerships and avoid the potential pitfalls:

  1. Research, research, research. Be methodical in your approach – shortlist potentials, research their reputation and communications output, identify benefits and possible risks, provide a rounded assessment of them from a communications perspective that can inform whoever is responsible for finding the right partner. 
  2. Value yourself and them. Draw up your positioning wish list, including an agreed set of messages describing the partnership, plus a sign-off protocol for all partner communications that gives you equal say where possible.
  3. Have an agreement on paper. Think through all the different scenarios around partnership communications and develop a position, plan and response for each. Then seek the feedback and agreement of the partner on all of that, before you communicate a single word.
  4. Talk to each other. Partnership should start with you all in a room developing ideas and approaches that can then be refined into effective, genuinely joint communications.
  5. Keep differences private. A universal truth of all partnerships is that at some point one or both of the partners will be annoyed by the approach or action of the other. You need to develop a strong rationale for the partnership plus a clear set of shared key messages that all relevant people in the organisations are aware of, understand and preferably agree with.

Forster Communications is a partner at the forthcoming Business4Better UK forum which takes place on 9-10 July at Olympia, London.