Purposeful Partnerships

Published by Lisa Basford on

Although they might not seem likely bedfellows, partnerships between corporates and charities are not new. Many of the most familiar partnerships have a long history (the Boots Macmillan partnership has been in existence for more than a decade, whilst Sainsburys and Comic Relief have supported each other for more than twenty years).

There are signs, however, that the way both corporates and charities approach partnerships is changing. So, what are the new trends to be aware of and how might this impact partnerships in the future?

Image thanks to Alec Favale on unsplash

Not just about the money

In the past, a “generous” CEO might have made a donation to his preferred charity. All well and good. But, simply writing a cheque (whilst no doubt, easing the conscience) does little in the way of providing long-term value for the funder. Increasingly businesses and their charity partners are moving to more strategic alliances. Why? The right partners will help each other to achieve long-term goals, creating greater social impact.

Businesses have many skills that a charity can use: tech know-how, for example, or access to sales and marketing assets. In return, charities can provide access to experts bringing credibility to any joint-led projects and thus enhancing their corporate partner’s reputation.

Together corporate and charities can pool skills and play to their strengths to create better products or services and address a common need.

Fewer, more strategic alliances

You’ve heard the phrase “less is more”, well that rings true for corporate-charity partnerships, too.  Investing time and effort into a small number of causes can deliver greater benefits. Working in a large multinational some years ago, I found that employees were making donations and volunteering for hundreds of charities globally. All worthwhile, it’s true, but not in any way aligned to the brand purpose. Over the years we worked to streamline our community efforts, supporting a smaller number of charities but in a more meaningful way.

Corporates are increasingly looking to deliver purpose through partnership, aligning with not-for-profits, so they can demonstrate they are responsible businesses and to show their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Make it last

Increasingly, we are seeing a move to longer-term relationships. As anyone starting out in a new relationship knows, it takes time to make it work. What’s more, if you are going to invest all that time wouldn’t you want to be in it for the long run? It may take two or three years or more, to really start to reap the rewards of any partnership so be prepared to make the commitment.


C.S Lewis told us that “two heads are better than one”. Pooling the best people from two (or more) different organisations increases diversity of thought and helps to problem-solve. Working in a collaborative way, sharing different experiences,  can unlock new ideas and new opportunities. The barometer from C and E Advisory shows innovation scoring highly for both charities and corporates when asked what drives them to engage in a partnership (it was the second highest factor for corporates falling behind reputation / credibility and the third for NGOs scoring below access to funds and access to people / contacts).

Our top tips for a successful, purposeful partnership

  1. Have a common goal. Sounds obvious, but it’s important to be specific about what the partnership has to achieve, who will benefit and when. Ensure that both parties are signed up this and don’t forget to ensure that stakeholders outside the direct team are aware and signed up to this.
  2. Set clear KPIs for each year of the partnership and accountabilities for who will deliver them. Have a plan to measure progress and be honest about what is (or is not) working.
  3. Money is power right? Wrong. Not in this case. Have a partnership of equals.  The balance of the relationship should not tip in favour of the cash-rich corporate. Appreciate what both sides are bringing to the table.
  4. Consider funding for multiple years.  Longer-term partnerships mean you can plan and allocate resources more effectively. Consider making the funding unrestricted – it can help to speed responses in an emergency. Unrestricted funds could unlock the door to more innovative thinking.
  5. Work as one team and keep the conversation flowing. The corporate-charity relationship needs careful nurturing to create mutual understanding and a team spirit. Invest in the development of the partnership as you would in your own people.


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