Corporate partnerships: Companies increasingly interested in smaller charities
Grahame Darnell reveals some of the insights he has gained from corporate decision makers on their renewed appetite for working with smaller charities and grass-root organisations.
Those of us that track the corporate partnerships market closely will have observed the continuing trend for big global companies to put causes at the heart of their brand. For major companies, the idea of doing good is no longer an activity that is confined to the CSR team. In addition, many of the bigger charities are building strategic partnerships with companies and regularly winning the staff vote for larger charity of the year programmes.
With all of this, some might think that the outlook for smaller charities is quite bleak. However, there are some notable signs that companies are increasingly seeking ways to work with smaller, more grass-roots organisations.
At Darnell Consulting we recently undertook a series of in-depth interviews with some corporate decision makers. The conversations we had were fascinating. One of the most interesting insights was the keenness to explore ways to engage with smaller, local-level charities. In short, companies are interested in finding mutually beneficial ways to work with smaller organisations that have either: a strong local resonance in the places where the corporate operates; or specific expertise in an area that the company is interested in (e.g. employment, disability access, diversity and inclusion etc).
This theme that emerged from the in-depth interviews chimes with a hunch we’ve had for the last 12 months or so. During the work to produce our annual prospect database, we researched well over 100 corporate partnerships opportunities, and observed some changes in the landscape. One of the most prominent examples is Deloitte’s approach. In 2016 the company partnered with three major national charities but since 2017 it has changed its strategy and created around 60 partnerships with smaller organisations.
There are other examples too: many law firms actively seek relationships with smaller charities; Penguin Random House recently partnered with the Literacy Trust; and in May 2018 Wates launched a new partnership with The Conservation Volunteers after a four year relationship with The Princes Trust.
Changing public attitudes
Although we can’t prove it completely, common sense suggests that some of this move is a response to public attitudes in the UK. Unfortunately, a sense of scepticism towards big charities is prevalent amongst the UK public. Companies want to be in touch with the public’s mood and so are looking for ways to create partnerships with smaller organisations.
Thankfully we are a long way off a situation where companies sideline big charities but current corporate attitudes indicate that many companies are more open than ever to the idea of working with smaller organisations. Smaller charities will be heartened by this interest from the corporate sector and should consider how they might harness any opportunities.
Think big but start small – and do your research
Rather than seeking a big partnership straight away, starting with a low-level initial engagement is often a good tactic. This can then be used as a platform to develop a more significant relationship over time. Initiatives like skills-sharing to solve a specific charity problem and a hackathons, where experts come together to think innovatively and develop ideas to meet a business need, are two good ways to secure support from companies in the first instance. An obvious point to remember is that corporate experts have more impact if their skills are utilised rather than if they are deployed to paint walls. Of course there is also a clear need for good research; for example, if your charity is involved in helping vulnerable people acquire tech skills, then what businesses have synergy with this objective?
Starting small is a good way to begin a relationship but there should be a focus on creating something bigger and more meaningful over time. This requires some patience. A corporate partnership will not bloom into something huge in a matter of months. It is sensible allow a two year timeframe before expecting any step change in the value of a relationship. Should you need a case study to reference, it is worth remembering that Breakthrough (now part of Breast Cancer Now) began its widely admired relationship with M&S with some pin badges at till points; over the ensuing ten years this became a strategic partnership that raised close to £20m.
Grahame Darnell is Managing Director of Darnell Consulting Ltd and a Partner Consultant with THINK.