We all want to feel special and valued. My daughter’s prep class fights for the privilege of hanging out with her at recess to get that extra attention. My friend’s three sons always badgered her to say which one was her favourite. She responded to each one “you’re my favourite son”. It became a running joke within the family that each one boasted of their special status.
Your corporate partners also want to feel recognised and valued. You do your best to nurture the relationship and make them feel special. But sometimes it’s not easy to balance partnerships with companies that are in direct competition. They may demand a level of recognition or positioning that shuts out opportunities with new corporate partners.
If you’re juggling competing partners, here are some things to consider.
Corporate partners may ask for exclusivity of some kind. It might be in their product or industry category or in terms of their positioning if they’re supporting a significant event. It’s in your interests to avoid granting exclusivity wherever possible because it limits your ability to reach out to new corporate partners. We think exclusivity should only be granted if you’ve got a contractual agreement to a multi-year partnership with a significant financial commitment. For example, if you’ve got a corporate partner that’s funding an entire program you both created together, you wouldn’t suggest putting a direct competitor in the mix for phase 2. If you’re offering Country Road the role of presenting partner for your major event, you’d need to be very careful positioning Target in the same room. Is there a magic price point for exclusivity? It depends on each non-profit, but I’d be reluctant to grant exclusivity for anything below six figures in income. Your reputation and goodwill are valuable, so make sure you don’t sell yourself short with a major partner.
Definition of competitors
Your definition of competitors isn’t necessarily the same as the corporate’s viewpoint. For example, I think of Carman’s as the people that make muesli and cereal bars. But Carman’s view their business as ‘healthy foods’ so the entire grocery sector is both their distributor and competitor. It’s not commercially sensible for you to exclude every supermarket and food retailer in exchange for a single partnership, so try to find the narrowest possible definition of competitors. Or simply have a blanket policy for granting no exclusivity and explain your reasoning to prospective partners.
Nature of the partnership
I’m sure you thank your corporate partners and make them feel valued for their support. But some partners are more valuable than others. A corporate that gives you ad hoc donations of $10,000 pa when they have leftover cash is not as significant as one that offers $100,000 per annum for 5 years under a contractual agreement. The problem arises when those ad hoc corporate donors think that their contribution entitles them to special treatment. Financial contributions are not the only criteria for granting exclusive rights or accessing valuable benefits. The nature of the partnership, the level of integration and alignment with your organisation and the prospect of future growth are important factors in deciding which corporate gets more favourable positioning. Alas, it’s often the smaller and less committed partners that shout loudest for more attention and make it hard for charities to refuse them. Consider reserving the most attractive benefits for the partners with the greatest commitment and potential. Beyond Blue have former PM Julia Gillard as patron and only offer her as a speaker once a year to their highest value partners. Think about the benefits you’re offering to your partners and make sure you’re reserving the most sought-after ones for your most valuable opportunities.
You may have your favourite partners that have supported you for years and love everything you do. Equally you’ll have a bunch of other partners that are more of a mutually valuable commercial proposition. Either way, you’ll need to weigh up what you can offer to meet their needs without locking out future valuable prospects.