Charities and Corporations – Not just a sugar daddy

16 May 2017

For many charities thinking about partnering with business, cash is king - but they can offer so much more.

More and more charities are starting to realise that arrangements with corporate partners can provide a valuable source not only of funds but expertise, and volunteers. As well as soliciting donations, charities are looking to build partnerships which reflect the shared values of the participating organisations, and make best use of the skills of each to mutual benefit and advancement of their cause. These deep relationships can be very beneficial but make partnering with the right company more important than ever.  

 The trend in corporate fundraising is to focus on high-value strategic partnerships, with the perfect relationship being one that is mission-led on the charity side and purpose-led on the corporate side. For charities, this could mean a whole range of benefits such as access to new supporter audiences, or the opportunity to drive social change within the company’s workforce and customer base. For example, Cancer Research UK recently partnered with Nivea sun cream, using their strong brand to raise awareness and funds for its skin cancer work. In the same vein the British Red Cross partnered with Aviva to raise £500,000 but also to use their expertise in risk management to help people respond to crises.

 What makes these partnerships so effective is how they harness something the businesses has and the charity doesn’t, turning it towards the charity’s objectives. There is no upper limit on the potential for these kinds of partnerships. They might take the form of something more complex but potentially more impactful, such as the development of new products and services such as credit cards and insurance packages tailored to specific audiences. For example, the Oxfam credit card, offered by the cooperative bank, donates 5p for every £100 spent on it automatically.

Whatever the format of the corporate partnership, charities should weigh up all the risks and benefits before launching any new initiatives. This means scrutinising it carefully, and considering what the partnership involves. Questions charities should be asking themselves include:

 Ethics: Are their business activities compatible to your cause? Do they have a good track record on issues such as the environment, employees and salaries, tax payments, etc? Do they have a good reputation? Will the partnership be welcomed by your staff and your supporters? If the answer is no to any of the above, then you probably shouldn’t partner with them.

 The deal: What is the corporate offering you and in exchange for what? Many charities often undersell their brand and give away too much for too little. Consider the value that you will be providing them, (remembering that positive PR is worth a great deal), assess this against the amount of time, energy and resource you will be required to put in, and then weigh this up against what you will receive. And don’t forget to take into account VAT and other tax consequences of sponsorship deals, which could involve a hefty payment – otherwise you may find yourself out of pocket.

The relationship: Even the best partnerships can experience problems along the way. Consider issues from operational and resource challenges, through to power dynamics, through to the priority the partner places on the activity – for the charity it may be the biggest thing ever to happen for them, but for the corporate it could be one of many charity relationships they are managing. The way to managing those is good lines of communication, transparency and clear guidelines that set out what each partner is expected to deliver – and make sure that targets are realistic.

Finally, remember that corporate fundraising doesn’t have to be limited to big business. Smaller companies are also often keen to do what they can to help. While the amounts raised may not be as significant as the likes of the large national corporations, it all adds up – and as they grow so too could the value of your relationship.

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Becky Slack

Becky Slack is managing director of Slack Communications, a publishing and communications agency with a social conscience. She has a 20 year career in the media industry, including more than 10 working within and around the charity sector.  

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