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In Good Company

Taking corporate partnerships into new dimensions


Introduction

The charity world has a conflicted attitude towards companies. There are many charities with large teams dedicated to building corporate partnerships and raising substantial income. Meanwhile, there are campaign organisations who will have nothing to do with companies either in terms of income or influence, or who will only work with the most ‘ethical’ of the corporate world. Equally there are those in the charity world who are happy to publicly criticise companies for not being generous enough, and for wanting too much from their corporate donations. We would never do the same with individual donors.


My concern is that the relationship between companies and charities is becoming ever blander. Charities hunt the few, genuinely lucrative, charity of the year partnerships. Companies partner with only the safest of charities, usually in the health arena and often cancer. If this was a crop it would be a monoculture of wheat. For charities and companies to make the most of each other we need innovation and courage. The election proposal from the Conservatives – 3 days of volunteering for each employee in companies with more than 250 staff – could be one of those game-changing ideas (though it seems unlikely).

So what might some of these new ideas look like? To answer this, it’s worth looking at three things: what is the ‘currency’ of the partnership; how does each party benefit; and which group is making the contribution that makes the partnership have value. These are the three variables in corporate partnerships.

When a company makes a donation to a charity, the currency is money. The charity gets the income and the company gets to feel good. The company itself gives through its bank balance.

In a charity of the year partnership the currency is also money. The charity again gets the income and the company get to feel good. But the group that gives in this scenario is usually the staff and sometimes the company’s customers.

In corporate volunteering the currency is company staff time. The company staff get to give their time to the charity and the charity hopefully (but not always) benefits from the volunteering. The group who gives is still the company staff.


The existing traditional corporate partnership models


What are the benefits?

Who benefits?

Who gives?

Corporate donation to charity

Money

Charity gets money

Company

Charity of the year

Money

Charity gets money

Company staff and customers

Corporate volunteering

Money

Staff get motivated

Company staff

These three models have limited further potential to grow. Companies usually do not like just donating money. Only so many companies want to run a charity of the year partnership. Only so many charities can absorb huge amounts of corporate ‘binge’ volunteering.


The new corporate partnership models

So what if we take the three dynamics I set out above and think laterally. We can see some other potential models. Five are represented below:


What are the benefits?

Who benefits?

Who gives?

Ask the corporate customers

Money

Charity gets money

Customers of the company

Ask the charity supporters

Money

​Charity gets money

Supporters of the charity

Pay to volunteer

Volunteer time

Staff gets motivated and charity gets paid

Company staff

Educating the future

Money and time

Company gets better workforce

Local schoolchildren

New products for new audiences

Money

​Corporate sales and charity income

New and existing audiences for corporate products

Let me tease out each of these five models in a bit more detail. It’s worth adding here that many are already in use, but just haven’t taken off yet. To quote writer William Gibson,


‘the future is already here, it just isn’t very evenly distributed’.


Ask the corporate customers

So in the first of these models, the source of donations is the customers or clients of the company, rather than the company itself. In the mass market this is what the Pennies Foundation is doing by working with companies such as Domino’s to let customer round up to the nearest pound their credit card transaction. I have heard of an initiative in the Middle East which rounds up through the credit card company – so a customer agrees to round up each statement or each transaction. At the other end of the scale I met a direct marketing guru the other day who said they were having great success working with companies to ask their wealthy clients to give to charity. There is huge potential in this model still – in the Pennies Scheme alone there are many other retailers who could join.


Ask the charity supporters

This model is the converse of the previous one. Charity supporters are asked to use a corporate product as a mechanism for giving. The affinity credit card reached its zenith in the 80s and 90s and has since fallen in popularity which is a shame. There are also a number of affinity savings and insurance products which give to a named charity for each new account. The benefit of this model is that charity supporters are asked to do something other than just give money. Sadly these schemes never seem to quite reach critical mass.


Pay to volunteer

This may sound like a strange model but it is probably what the Tory party proposal for 3 days of volunteering will become. Few charities want a volunteer for just 3 days, so companies may need to end up paying for the privilege of letting their staff volunteer. This is akin to what the Prince’s Trust does with its corporate supporters, who join a club for a substantial donation and their staff can then become business mentors. The problem is that too few charities dare to ask for a donation, and too many companies are perplexed why their generous offer of corporate support needs a donation to oil the wheels.


Educating the future

The American management gurus like Michael Porter are keen on this kind of corporate model. In their approach the only kind of corporate/not for profit partnership that makes sense is where a partnership benefits the core corporate objectives. So improving education provision in the area where employees come from makes sense in their model. The nearest we get to this in the UK is where Academies are sponsored by companies and wealthy individuals.


New products for new audiences

I have left the model that excites me the most to last. There are huge opportunities in the financial services marketplace for new products that benefit charities and provide differentiation amid a crowded range of hard to distinguish products. The level of commission in financial services was bought home to me when I discovered a life insurance product I bought whose total revenue to the company was around £8000, but which produced a commission for the intermediary of £1400. Given the level of pensions, life insurance, mortgages, savings, ISAs, and other products that middle class baby boomers buy, the potential is huge. There are also formidable obstacles too – the need to conform with financial services regulation is high amongst them.


The next generation: partnership mash-ups

Let’s take these fluid notions of partners and the currency of benefit one stage further, and assume nothing about partnerships except that both sides need to benefit.

Why do the corporate partners need to be profit-making? Given that most of the contribution is no longer made from corporate profits, but from access to staff and/or customers, then partners don’t need to be companies. Imagine a charity of the year partnership between the government department and a charity. Why shouldn’t civil servants do fundraising events or volunteering activities? Indeed why shouldn’t a charity have a charity of the year partnership with another charity. If the motivation benefits of team-building and skills-building are there for companies, why not for charities.

So the first mash-up is that companies, government and even non-profits should have charity partnerships for the benefits of their own staff and the charity.


The next mash-up is the notion of who benefits and how. The NHS recently announced that they were going to support initiatives to improve the health and fitness of their employees. Cancer Research UK and Macmillan already run their own fundraising campaigns on abstaining from alcohol. So while raising money and volunteering are the familiar products of a partnership, what about social, environmental or health benefits: weight loss, recycling, safety messages, improved fitness, etc:

  • Imagine Tesco staff educating children about healthy eating and exercise.

  • Imagine if all NHS staff said they were going to run a million miles for charity, lose a million pounds in weight or go a million weeks without alcohol.

  • Imagine if Environment Agency staff said they were going to recycle a million pounds of plastic for Friends of the Earth (apologies if I seem a little fixated on the ‘million’ target but it’s the notion of a collective non- money target that could be so powerful)

  • Imagine if all HMRC staff agreed to have a collective target for donating pints of blood – would make a nice contrast from the tax they are so used to collecting!

So the second mash-up is about partnerships building teams and delivering social change in one organisation that meets the mission of another, and perhaps even raising money too.


Conclusion

In summary, innovation will come from thinking with creativity, about the three variables in partnerships

  1. Who are the agents of giving in the partnership? It’s not just the staff of charities and companies, it can include central and local government and government agencies

  2. What is the currency, or the medium through which the partnership delivers its benefits?

  3. Who benefits from the partnership, is it just a charity or can it be staff and customers as well

So here is the chart from the beginning expanded:


What are the benefits?

Who benefits?

Who gives?

​Corporate donation to charity

Money

Charity gets money

Company

​Charity of the year

Money

Charity gets money

Company staff and customers

​Corporate volunteering

Volunteer time

Staff gets motivated

Company staff

Mash-up 1: Partners

​Money

Charity gets money

Government employees

Mash-up 2: Benefits

​Weight loss/ recycling/ safety messages

​Staff/ the environment/ school children

​Staff of any kind of organisation


In short if we want to increase the benefit, both for charities and their partners, we need to think about new ways of working together. If we can reinvent the dynamics of whom, and how, partners benefit, we can open up significant new opportunities.


About nfpSynergy

nfpSynergy is a research consultancy that aims to provide the ideas, the insights and the information to help non-profits thrive.

We have over a decade of experience working exclusively with charities, helping them develop evidence- based strategies and get the best for their beneficiaries. The organisations we work with represent all sizes and areas of the sector and we have worked with four in five of the top 50 fundraising charities in the UK.

We run cost effective, syndicated tracking surveys of stakeholder attitudes towards charities and non-profit organisations. The audiences we reach include the general public, young people, journalists, politicians and health professionals. We also work with charities on bespoke projects, providing quantitative, qualitative and desk research services.

In addition, we work to benefit the wider sector by creating and distributing regular free reports, presentations and research on the issues that charities face.

If you want to discuss anything of the ideas in this report, you can email Joe Saxton on joe.saxton@nfpsynergy.net



Photo credits: Cytonn Photography



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