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How to make corporate and charity partnerships work to create maximum impact

By Beth Gaudin

There is no doubt that for many charities it is a difficult time. Fundraising, while never easy, has become even tougher with many of the staple formats unavailable and previous donors unable to give.

With everything in flux, it is hard to know what the future will look like, but it is extremely likely that corporate partnerships, one of the foundations of charitable fundraising, will be important.

At their best, these partnerships are a symbiotic relationship that benefit both parties, creating huge value and social change. Of course, this isn’t always the case and sometimes partnerships can feel one-sided and unsatisfying, or can simply fail to achieve what they set out to do.

Not all partnerships are the same, and there are a range of ways that corporates might engage with a charity. The most obvious is through a one-off donation which the charity can then use to fund whatever it likes.

Sometimes these go deeper, with the corporate partner working with the charity to create a bespoke programme that addresses a certain issue. Ideally, these programmes are able to utilise skills and wider resources from both the charity and corporate partner to make the biggest impact; sharing intellect and ideas could be considerably more powerful than a straight financial gift. These programmes often extend into skilled employee volunteering, for which there is an increasing desire, this creates a real potential for capacity building.

Finally, there are fundraising partnerships. These might be as simple as the corporate encouraging its employees or customers, or perhaps both, to fundraise with the total sometimes matched by the corporate. This may also include cause-related marketing activities with products are created or linked by the corporate so that a percentage of profits from sales go to the charity.

Whatever the type of partnership, there are some basic principles that ought to be considered before they are set up:

  • What are you trying to achieve? – this might sound incredibly obvious but ensuring you are working to the same end point should be the foundation to how the partnership is built. This goes beyond the measurement metrics like total amounts of money to be raised. For example, if you are working on a partnership around a medical condition, is your overarching aim a change to how the condition is treated or eradicating it entirely, or simply raising awareness of the condition? This will make a huge difference to finding the right partner, developing what you do together, and motivating audiences to get involved.
  • What are your expectations from each other and the process? – this is the nuts and bolts of the partnership. How will your results be measured? How often? Who is responsible for this? It is also important to lay out who is delivering what and that these roles are divided to best play to the strengths of the partner.
  • How will you talk about the partnership? – most partnerships will come with a desire from both sides to talk about the ambitions and achievements. It is important to agree early how this is done, how you will work together to amplify the message and when. Having a core set of messages and clear roles will ensure that this process works efficiently and that everyone is happy with how the partnership is communicated.
  • Think about the end – this might sound a little odd, but understanding the end point (and what you hope to have achieved by then) is vital from the beginning. No one partner should come to rely on the other without understanding if, when and how the partnership will end. Having an exit strategy will ensure that the partnership can go out with a bang and not a whimper – or ideally both partners can understand its benefit and discuss expansions with enough time to enact them.
  • How much is it going to cost? – just like volunteers, partnerships don’t come free, they need to be managed and they need resources on both sides to make them work. This needs to be factored into the planning so there are no unexpected surprises and you can make the most of the opportunity.

Whatever your goal, it is likely that there are partners available to help you achieve the change you want. But, like all good relationships they require work and good communication from the very outset.

Being honest and transparent about your desires and expectations (and how they change over the course of the relationship) is very important. Keep communicating throughout and your partnership is more likely to achieve bigger and better outcomes for all.