When size doesn’t matter – 4 things I’ve learned about Charity / Business Partnerships

Over the past few months I’ve been meeting with Corporate Partnerships Managers from some of Australia’s best known Charities as part of a co-design process. Together we’ve been designing a survey that will explore ‘The State of Australian Business / Charity Partnerships today’. For Spark’s part, it’s about busting some myths and formulating a real picture about what’s working and what’s not.

Like most of you, we’ve been hearing the same voices speak on rotation at industry forums. And while we share a lot of cultural overlap with the Brits and the Americans, we can’t always play ‘snap’ with their regulatory framework, benevolent traditions, consumer preferences, population density or tax system.

Australia is different.

The matching of businesses and charities brings huge potential to provide both financial sustainability and also increase social impact. But my recent conversations have confirmed that – from a Charity’s perspective – setting up Corporate Partnership deals is a tough gig. Particularly if a Charity has ambitious acquisition targets.

Here are 4 things I’ve learnt.

#1 Size doesn’t matter

As fundraising in Australia has evolved, different Charities have chased and championed different techniques and segments. Some of the bigger players have grown their brand through mass market, and while the money flowed from other sources, actually delayed or deferred investing in Corporate Partnerships. Other smaller, more single minded, niche Charities have entered the Corporate space confidently and in ways that have secured them expertise, breadth and depth of relationships. This is a space where you can learn from everyone.

#2 There’s no such thing as easy money

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say: “The years of big cheques are over” I’d have, well, about $20. This is a complex one. While we’re clearly seeing a rise in Philanthropic giving in Australia we’re also seeing decisions being made differently. Ten years ago a Charity relationship might have been brokered at executive level. Today the how and the why of Charity giving is something businesses are increasingly using to build culture or business value. Depending on where a Business is at in terms of their social impact objectives – Charities with low-brand recognition, but charismatic leaders can do alright in this climate. Charities with a compelling cause and a half decent social media strategy can also do alright even if their CEO can’t string two words together. But one thing is clear: if a charity is terrible at communicating its impact, or its brand has lost trust, it’ll have its work cut out for it.

#3 Most deals are slow burn

Too often a CEO or CFO from one Charity hears of another Charity securing a big Corporate deal but has no sense of the investment timeframe. While there are still businesses that give and expect very little, most people I’ve spoken to say that big, mutually beneficial Charity / Business Partnerships usually take between 12 and 18 months to set up. Though prospecting and research may start well before that. I’ve also heard of deals that have taken much longer. This is something we’re exploring in our research along with the categories of partnerships being built.

#4 You are often herding cats

It doesn’t matter what organisation we work in, we all know that systems decision making can be unstable at the best of times. And I say this without malice – people leave jobs, go on holidays, have babies, get promoted, get made redundant, drop out and move to the Ashram. So that’s one consideration. Another is that, for many charities, their internal processes simply don’t line up to create the type of value that prospective Corporate Partners want in a partnership. This might be related to volunteering, or logo use, or beneficiary story-telling, or CEO input, social impact measurement or ethical alignment. You’re always managing variables and there’s a lot of hand crafting going on.

Without a doubt, managing expectations (and patience, and anxiety) in a climate of constant variables and uncertainty, is one of the hardest roles! If you’re in this space, or you are interested in knowing more, please email info@sparkstrategy.com.au.

To learn more about developing better partnerships for social impact, download our whitepaper, Partnering for Purpose.

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