Corporate partnerships are not like any other type of fundraising and they require a combination of skills that makes a corporate partnerships manager very special. They’re often seen as the mavericks or rebels within the fundraising family as they don’t quite fit the traditional mode.
When we review the typical job description for a corporate partnerships manager, we see some common threads: sales, marketing, relationship management or a requirement for some business development experience. They’re all useful experiences. But what is it that makes a really successful and high performing corporate partnerships manager? When we work with the best corporate partnership managers we’ve noticed these hidden superpowers that no-one’s articulated in the job description.
It can take at least 12 months to land a significant corporate partnership if you don’t have an existing connection. During that time a corporate partnerships manager will be patiently nurturing the relationship and building the opportunity but won’t have much to show for it yet. There’s inevitable pressure from a charity’s leadership to ‘show me the money’ and always a few setbacks when corporate decision makers move on- hence the need for resilience and a keen focus on the end prize during the journey.
2. Emotional intelligence
In corporate partnerships this can manifest as the talent to ‘read the room’ and see if your proposal is landing well. Equally it’s having the empathy to listen to what’s really important to your corporate partner, rather than talk about what your charity needs. A cancer charity developed a long-term relationship with a retailer when the corporate partnerships manager uncovered that the CEO of the business had lived experience of cancer in his family and had lost a loved one to the disease. Creating an emotional connection to the cause is a powerful motivator for a corporate partnership.
Corporate partnerships aren’t just about cold calls, they offer opportunities to flex your creative muscle to engage your prospective partner. When Plan International was pitching for a partnership with Etsy, the corporate partnership manager created mock-up gift boxes for each of the leadership team. Using cheap bangles from the Reject Shop, packaged beautifully like an Etsy purchase and containing an inspiring insert about Plan’s campaign for girls’ education, she was able to surprise and delight the audience at her pitch and allow them to share what a customer would experience from the partnership. This was the beginning of a multi-year partnership that engaged Etsy’s customer, suppliers and staff.
My amazing business partner Sharon is from Liverpool, UK. Scousers, as they’re known, are famous for their resourcefulness and appetite for finding a cheaper, faster and unconventional way of doing things. For corporate partnership managers that may mean finding ways to stretch resources further or uncovering a new way to get access to a decision maker. One partnership manager was trying to get a meeting with a key decision maker at an engineering company but having no luck. She noticed him flag his attendance at a conference on his LinkedIn page, so she went into the exhibition hall at lunchtime, found a space next to him in the lunch queue and introduced herself. It developed into a global partnership with 6-figure income for 5 years. Sometimes we need to embrace our inner Scouser to find an alternative route.
Many times I’ve heard fundraisers talk about how they’re going to make that difficult or cold call ‘when I’ve got the database sorted’, ‘once the marketing materials are done’ or ‘when the next report is ready’. But the best corporate partnership managers are making brave calls every day, whether it’s to a cold prospect or to an existing relationship that’s become difficult. It takes courage to exit a poorly performing partnership or to ask for more value than what’s on the table initially. One partnership manager had the courage to end a low value partnership even though it came about through a personal connection of one of the board. He rightly assessed that a small percentage of sales on an insurance product didn’t constitute a meaningful partnership, nor did it warrant the effort of managing it.
We think that corporate partnerships managers do an amazing job, often in the face of limited understanding about partnerships among their organisation’s leadership and board. For the rebels, the mavericks and the Scousers, you have our greatest respect and we love seeing the transformational corporate partnerships you create.
For more information on corporate partnerships consulting, coaching and training please get in touch. We know how to get you started and how to take your partnerships from good to great. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or subscribe to our blog.