CDE project 7 sec­tion 1: the approach and putting the prin­ci­ples and actions into prac­tise part 1

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 29, 2017

The approach

Partnerships with companies are a huge opportunity for charities. This is because public trust of companies is low (46% in the UK – Edelman Trust Barometer), employee engagement is a top priority for business (Deloitte) and Generation Y want to work for organisations that are doing something meaningful.

To prepare this report we met with over 100 corporate fundraisers in London and Manchester and gained input from companies. These conversations provided us with some shining examples of charities providing a great experience for companies. They also revealed instances where charities are providing a poor experience.

To make the most of the huge corporate partnerships opportunity, it is essential that charities, both individually and collectively, provide a better experience for companies. If not, the private sector contribution to charities is likely to stay flat, at approximately £2billion, as it has done for the last 14 years (NCVO).

Below we show how it is possible for charities to provide an excellent experience for companies.

A note on language: Where we refer to ‘companies’ we mean for-profit businesses of all sizes, from small local firms to large FTSE 100 multinationals.

Putting the principles and actions into practise

What can I do straight away?

(Listed in order of descending priority.)

1. Involve key colleagues from the start.

The best way to get colleagues on board with corporate partnerships is to involve them from the beginning. This builds trust and helps avoid awkward conversations where you have to explain what you’ve promised to the company after the event. The staff of Haven House Hospice played a vital role in securing a new partnership with Citi. See the full case study in Appendix 1 below.

2. Find out your biggest organizational challenges that aren’t money.

Identifying and sharing your charity’s biggest problems is one of the most powerful things you can do to engage a company’s senior decision-makers. That’s because they love solving problems. It is what they do every day! When you pitch them your big organizational challenge, the likelihood is they will be climbing over the desk to help you. Mark Bishop, Director of Customer & Cause at the National Trust for Scotland, describes how you can find out your charity’s biggest challenges: “I would suggest that the heads of corporate partnerships teams request an hour with the chief executive and ask for an articulation of where the organization wants to be in five years and what are the biggest limitations on making this happen. This will give a golden nugget of where the aspiration is and what needs to be overcome to achieve it. That then becomes your pitch to the right companies. At Prostate Cancer UK we did this with Owen Sharp our chief executive and some key Trustees and we realized that our Men United campaign was crying out for someone to say, ‘And how will we make this movement for men a reality?’ It was Owen who said, ‘By becoming the charity of choice for men.’ That insight and moment of inspiration is now being run through every part of Prostate Cancer UK’s fundraising proposition. In effect using male solidarity as a distinctive way to generate support. Can your charity’s chief executive offer you something as exciting and challenging?”

3. Create a partnership-focused strategy.

Developing a strategy can be a very effective way of communicating the huge potential of corporate partnerships and the important contribution you need from your colleagues. Girlguiding recently created a simple and powerful strategy and it is having a very positive effect on how key colleagues collaborate with the corporate partnerships team.

4. Develop a robust & simple ethical policy.

Creating a robust ethical policy will help you reassure colleagues and trustees that might have concerns about corporate partnerships. It should be easy to read and straightforward. You should also develop a simple process for reaching decisions. When Alzheimer’s Society enjoyed a period of rapid growth in corporate partnerships, it became essential for them to create a simple and effective ethical policy and process. Once this was put in place, it led to much smoother internal relations and quicker decision making.

5. Understand the company’s objectives and challenges.

During our research for this project, we found some brilliant examples of what makes a good partner as well as what you should avoid doing. The one golden thread in all of our conversations, with both companies and charities, is that to create a real partnership you have to understand each other. Your charity should start researching the objectives and challenges of the company and its key decision-makers even before you meet them. The company’s website is highly likely to include information on their mission, ambition and values. It is vital that you also check your understanding when you meet them. Make the company’s key objectives and challenges the top item on your first meeting agenda. This was crucial for Football Beyond Borders: “As part of our partnership with Football Radar we learned that they wanted to drive employee engagement. So we developed a volunteering programme that would meet both our challenges”. See the full case study in Appendix 1 below.

6. Inspire the company’s decision-makers.

Because you are meeting with commercial decision-makers, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that your pitch should focus on business benefits. Time and time again we hear examples of how a charity engaged a company in an incredibly emotional way and that was the crucial element that influenced their decision. Inspiring the company’s decision-makers can be as simple as inviting them to come and see your cause first hand and introducing them to some of your beneficiaries and services colleagues. Claire House Children’s Hospice gave Biffa employees a truly inspirational tour of their hospice. See the full case study in Appendix 1 below.

7. Help the company with one of their big objectives or challenges. 

When you make it your goal to really help your company’s senior executives to tackle one of their biggest problems or priorities then you are building a relationship that will last and grow. Companies are so used to a charity walking in with a request for money that this approach of generosity and selflessness will grab their attention. This is exactly the approach that Blind Veterans UK took in their partnership with Monarch because they were talking about how they could get some PR and add value. To see the powerful effect it had on their partnership, see the full case study in Appendix 1 below.

8. Make value the goal of our partnership.

Making value the goal of your partnership is much more inspiring for both you and the company’s employees. Also partnering with a company on the bigger goal of value is more likely to create a genuine, long-lasting partnership. National Grid’s partnership with Special Olympics GB is providing significant non-financial benefits because they specifically want to work with the charity to grow its capacity. Kate van der Plank, former Head of UK Community Investment at National Grid, describes how they have done it: “Sharing our business and professional skills has enabled SOGB to grow capacity, work more efficiently and access professional services they would otherwise have to pay for. For example, a volunteer from our senior strategy team helped them re-shape their organisational structure and board. National Grid volunteers have been key in delivering SOGB’s Summer Games this year: Experts from our procurement team designed, sourced and negotiated the price for the kit for 500+ games makers. Our IT team designed and built the online registration tool for athletes, visitors and their families and our safety experts have helped with risk assessments and safety management. We have also seconded our Head of Employee Communications for 12 months, to help them raise the profile of Special Olympics throughout the Games and capitalise on its legacy”.

9. Call it ‘Corporate Partnerships’ not ‘Corporate Fundraising’.

The language we use really matters. Using ‘corporate partnerships’ to describe these relationships will help to create a partnership culture and encourage your colleagues to help deliver benefits for the company.

Click on the image below to view project 7 in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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CDE project 7 summary: companies

This project will consider all aspects of the evolving field of corporate partnerships from the perspective of the donor - including directors, senior managers, selection panels and staff to identify ways of enhancing the experience to the benefit of all involved.

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CDE project 7 section 2: appendix

Appendix 1: Case studies

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