Corporate partnerships – where to start?

Last week I hosted a conference call about building strategic corporate partnerships with a group of fundraisers interested to learn from each other as they seek to either set-up or grow corporate income. This came about following a Fundraising Chat post on Facebook which had a lot of interest. Here I share the my key learnings and some info from the call.

Before we get into that though, More Partnership’s report on the future of corporate partnerships is well worth a read. It focuses on larger partnerships but there’s still lots of learning for smaller organisations. Definitely check out their top ten tips even if you don’t’ have time to read the full report. Their transactional -> strategic -> transformative chart is a helpful way to visualise where your partners are/could be, and for you to consider what your proposition is across the matrix and how you could deliver it.


Your strategy and objectives

Your proposition needs to stem from your organisational mission and values, and all corporates should support one or more of your organisational objectives – multiple if it’s a strategic partner. If you go off-piste with this, the partnership will be transactional at best.

Learning: understand your organisation – its mission and ethos – and build this into your proposition, and make sure your partners measurably help you to achieve your organisation’s objectives.


Struggling to get a meeting?

Most people were interested to know how to get in front of a corporate if your calls or emails aren’t getting you the meeting. At both Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Toynbee Hall, where I have initiated a corporate partnerships programme, this involved being where the corporates already were. At FOE, we conducted a repositioning exercise, partnering with ethical business awards (such as the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards): having a presence on the evening (brand, people, speeches, fundraising mechanisms), sponsoring an award (for free) and having our Directors on the awards judging panel. This approach helped to showcase our expertise and begin to have face-to-face conversations which were then followed up. At Toynbee Hall, we attended local events within Canary Wharf where we had the opportunity to meet key influencers and decision makers who we then followed up with directly. Another strategy is to engage a match-maker, such as The Giving Department.

Learning: know where your audience is and find a way to be there too.


Evaluation of projects

At Toynbee Hall we had a fantastic project where BLF funding was coming to an end. A pivotal moment for us was getting funding for an evaluation (which included SROI). We launched the evaluation report at a small event attended by corporates and clients who had been through the programme. The evaluation enabled us to demonstrate the impact and the event really brought that home. We then worked with two large financial firms to scale the project from a tri-borough project to one covering each borough in London.

Learning: invest in evaluation – it will help.


Leverage your expertise – and value it

As you move towards strategic and transformational partnerships, your organisation’s expertise will be at the core of the partnership. Know what you do really well and value that expertise. This doesn’t mean pricing it up, necessarily, it means don’t sell yourself short with a partnership that is one-sided because charities are nice! Strategic and transformational corporate partnerships aren’t about branding and positioning; consumers expect corporates to be good citizens and call them out when they’re not.

Learning: know your value and position your organisation as an equal partner.


Invest your time – a good corporate is worth it

It can sometimes feel like you have to jump through hoops to get a partnership – lots of application forms, presentations, the same information in different formats. But a good corporate will help you through this, by critiquing and championing your application. This was the case with Toynbee Hall’s partnership with JPMorgan Chase; they even helped us to scope new digital technologies to better measure secondary beneficiary impact and increased their funding to pay for it. They then supported us through UK, Europe and USA approval processes.

A bad corporate partnership is not worth your time and effort. If you have a partnership where donated goods aren’t what you need, they want to send volunteers to help with something that doesn’t fit your objectives, or you are doing all the leg-work, have a frank conversation with the partner: revisit what you are both trying to achieve and how that can happen together. If it’s not working for either side, talk about it openly with your contact.

Learning: invest your time and expertise where the greatest value is and don’t feel bad (or like you might be losing out) by declining offers that don’t work for you.


Go for it!

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