The latest trend is for ‘soft parenting’, which involves letting kids explore their emotions and make choices based on internal willingness. The kids behind me on the flight to Hong Kong were fully expressing their feelings by climbing over the seats and terrorising the flight attendants. It didn’t help that their parents had checked themselves into business class and left the supervision to airline staff and other passengers back in cattle class. I’m not advocating thumbscrews and a good thrashing, but some boundaries set by parents would be a good thing.
When we build relationships with corporate partners, it’s tempting to give them everything they want. Nurturing and protecting the relationship can mean that your NFP makes concessions that are value destroying. It’s healthy to set some boundaries for the partnership and ensure that the partnership is built on mutual value and understanding, not an all you can eat buffet for corporates. They know you’re the good guys, but you don’t have to be nice all the time.
Here are some things to watch out for.
Start with the contract
You’ve got the yes for the partnership and you’re eager to get going. Take time to lay out the terms and boundaries in the first contract. This includes deliverables, expectations, time limits and no-go areas. Corporates often want you to sign their standard contract, so make sure you’ve made the edits that are important to your NFP. It will protect you from some sticky negotiations later on. Be as specific as possible about things that are important to you, including language, images, cost recovery and the benefits you’re prepared to offer.
Ration your strongest assets
If you’re aiming to grow your portfolio, you’ll need to preserve your strongest and most attractive assets for your best partners. You need to make it worth them paying top dollar for the partnership. They won’t appreciate seeing smaller businesses get the same types of benefits for a lesser contribution. Beyond Blue have Julia Gillard as patron and they only offer her participation once a year to their premium partners. AMRRIC works on animal health in rural and remote aboriginal communities and vets are dying for the chance to test their skills in new environments. But AMRRIC limits the opportunities for professional volunteering to fully committed, strategic partners. It allows them to deliver real value to aboriginal communities and prevents opportunistic businesses from getting a cheap uplift to their staff retention.
Stand firm on your expertise
I once had a corporate reject the pictures I provided of children in a key international development program because ‘they didn’t look sad or hungry enough’. The corporate was supporting a child nutrition project but the NFP’s policy was to portray children in a dignified manner, assisted by family or medical support. The contract had agreed to provide images for corporate communications but didn’t specify the parameters. We had a lively discussion about the rights of children that day. Whether your NFP’s expertise is in mental health, cancer research or people living with HIV/AIDS, you have the right and obligation to assert your superior knowledge. Your expertise and credibility are probably the key reasons for the corporate choosing you as a partner, so don’t feel like you have to compromise.
Protect your intellectual property
Emotional and engaging content is highly sought after by corporates desperate to inspire their audiences. This can lead to some corporates taking creative licence with the use of your IP. I had one corporate partner ask if they could take a video I provided and rebrand it with their corporate logo for distribution on their platform. It was a swift no. Similarly, you’ll come across businesses that once gave you a small donation years ago and put your NFP logo on their website to burnish their own social credentials. You’ll need to put some boundaries around the use of your IP and trademarks and be prepared to take action.
A soft parenting approach to partnerships can lead to a bunch of demanding and out-of-control brats who annoy the rest of the family. Setting boundaries will protect your key assets and reputation and avoid emergency interventions when things go off the rails. Your major partners will thank you for protecting their investment.