April 28th, 2022

A Match Made in Heaven?

Corporate and Charity Partnership

“88% of NGOs and 80% of corporates expect that their organisation will either increase, or significantly increase, investment in cross-sector partnering in the medium term”

Charities and corporates are increasingly aware of the mutual benefit and greater impact the right partnership can have. This month we talked to Richard Amos, Head of New Corporate Partnerships at Mind, about the opportunities and challenges of developing meaningful and strategic collaborations with major brands.

What have been the recent drivers of new corporate and charity partnerships?

Before the pandemic there was a growing mental health crisis, structural shifts in the economy due to the growth of online consumption as well as changing social interactions from 24/7 social media. The covid era rapidly accelerated and intensified these areas while highlighting big health and education needs and racial inequality became a top issue. The wide impacts of the war in Ukraine will now further exacerbate a cost-of-living crisis, meaning the most vulnerable will be further affected by poverty and mental health problems. With so many pressing day to day problems, there will be a challenge to ensure issues like climate change stay high on the agenda.

Customers are demanding that concerns high on their radar are also important to businesses. At the very least, they expect a more enlightened or ethical approach to staff, supply chains and sales and marketing. Businesses are increasingly looking for a credible social purpose and they know charity partnerships can help show customers that they take their issues seriously and are committed to playing a role for a better and fairer society.

What does an ‘ideal’ partnership look like?  

‘Ideal’ will of course be different for every charity depending on their strengths, weaknesses and what the priorities are at a given time. Whilst ‘ideal’ could mean more donor-based relationships with high, unrestricted multi-year income, I’d argue that ‘ideal’ means something more ambitious. The most powerful partnerships have a shared strategic purpose and can achieve more than income/ sales alone. For example, if a charity has low public awareness, a partner that can help it reach target audiences through their channels would help build a base for future income.

What can go wrong? 

Partnerships involve multiple stakeholders and different cultures, so there are invariably some challenges. For example,

  • Misunderstood expectations - In the initial enthusiasm of a new partnership, assumptions can easily form and become a challenge later, if not addressed early on. For example, the extent and manner in which the partnership is publicised and promoted.

  • Changed circumstances - Being prepared and flexible if an organisation is unable to reach a fundraising target. The pandemic was an extreme event that challenged every charity partnership but as a result we should all have better contingency planning.

  • Unclear roles & responsibilities – Brand partnerships often involve more stakeholders such as communications agencies, so it’s vital to agree clear roles/POCs for optimum communication flows.

  • Resource pressures - A company may have new ideas and want to do more for the charity than originally planned.  A nice problem but this can put extra pressure on impacted teams.

  • Reputational risks - A company’s environmental, social and corporate governance are under huge scrutiny by customers, investors and employees.  Charities need to fully understand any significant, potential, reputational risks to avoid difficult decisions at a later stage.

What have been the most difficult hurdles and why? 

Many of the challenges my team have faced have stemmed from short deadlines to respond to a brief which unless challenged can have a big negative domino effect. Being pushed into a process that doesn’t work for you may undermine the quality of your bid, risk damaging a future partnership and internal dependencies. To help counter this, my team spends the time needed to qualify and prioritise opportunities and agree a way forward. It’s important to ask for more time if you need it. Agreeing flexibility can build a good foundation for a better working partnership... 

What have been your greatest lessons? 

  • Taking internal stakeholders with you is vital to build the ties necessary to deliver a bid and partnership. Challenging views has its place, but you need stakeholders on side.

  • While I prefer to focus on fewer high-quality bids with the best strategic fit, I’ve learned it’s best to be pragmatic – some bids require more work than others. And it’s not always easy to predict which bids will be successful.  

  • No opportunity or partnership is ever quite the same. I never stop learning or being surprised.

What are the key elements to identifying and forming a successful partnership?

  • Clear analysis of where your charity is now, where it needs to be and how partnerships can help.  Understanding who might share your goals beyond the usual suspects.

  • Robust opportunity assessment processes; qualification criteria, ethical appraisal process.

  • Be open-minded and aim to co-create the partnership together – with a sense of adventure.

  • Prospect and development plans for current partners/cross organisation stakeholder mapping.

  • Realistic partnership objectives and clear ways of working.

What do charities and corporates need from each other? 

  • A shared purpose - Both parties need a strong ‘why’ to underpin a partnership, a passion for the cause, be committed to a shared purpose and have clear-sighted goals (a mix of CSR/social and commercial aims). Regular reciprocal impact reporting is important and will help maintain the enthusiasm needed to sustain a partnership. 

  • Good value exchange - Charities and businesses are very different and while a charity may feel like the smaller partner, it’s important not to undersell the charity’s value to a brand and to assess the ‘exchange’ based on all the tangible and intangible attributes including, borrowed values. A partnership is something new and exciting, the initial negotiation helps set the scene but it’s only the beginning, so it’s important to stay open to opportunities as they arise.

  • Understand each other’s culture - As well as understanding respective organisation goals, strategies, and challenges, both parties need time to understand each other’s culture. Who are the decision makers? How does each party make decisions and what’s needed to sell the partnership to respective stakeholders? Invest in a detailed ‘getting to know each other’ phase including senior counterpart relationship building, to form a stronger partnership.   

Richard Amos established the first New Corporate Partnerships team at Mind who have had huge successes developing new strategic and brand partnerships including; Co-op Group, Dunelm, ITV, Kleenex and McVitie's. Prior to Mind, he developed new strategic partnerships for Diabetes UK and Alzheimer’s Society. And before joining the third sector, Richard had a career in commercial marketing with management roles in television and promotional marcomms agencies.