My local library has resumed story time for children. One of the most popular books is ‘Are You My Mother?’ It was a huge favourite for my kids when they were little. A little duckling is separated from his mother and goes to look for her. Along the way he encounters all kinds of other animals and objects, asking them ‘are you my mother?’. After a lot of trial and frustration the little duckling eventually gets his happy reunion with mum.
I always think of this story when I hear of partnership managers trying to connect with corporate budgets. Like the little duckling they seem to be roaming through departments trying to find someone with budget that might be the right fit. I’ve heard of people looking for the metaphorical corporate ‘purses’ or ‘wallets’ full of gold. But in doing so, they’re looking for philanthropic money and missing the mother lode that is the biggest prize of all.
People often describe the purses of money within a corporate as typically HR, marketing, PR or CSR. Yes, they all have their own budgets. The problem is, they’re typically small. As someone’s who worked for decades in big corporates, I know the HR budget is usually tiny. Think of your non-profit’s learning and development budget only on a slightly bigger scale. HR is also poorly positioned within a corporate’s decision-making hierarchy, relative to its big profit &loss generating colleagues. The HR budget is a useful place to start if you’re opening up some volunteering or staff engagement, but don’t expect big commitments of money.
Marketing, advertising and PR budgets are usually larger, especially if your corporate target is an FMCG company. Coca-Cola is simply a mix of water, sugar and flavouring that wouldn’t exist without its enormous marketing effort. However, marketing and PR budgets are vulnerable, especially in tough economic times. When things are tight, the marketing budget is often seen as an easy controllable cost to cut. For example, in the US sport sponsorship is forecast to fall by $17bln due to COVID impacts. If you’re looking to position a cause marketing initiative, then marketing or PR is the obvious place to start. But you’ll always be vulnerable to economic cuts or the next shiny thing for all those marketing creatives.
Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, hints at a bigger social purpose approach within the corporate. But here’s a tip- check out where it’s placed within that business. If it reports to corporate affairs or PR, then the business will view your partnership as an investment in cheap goodwill. CSR is not viewed as a revenue generator within most corporates. As a cost centre, it will always have to fight for budget and attention from leadership and in a downturn, it is often sacrificed to preserve revenue generation.
So, where’s the mother lode for hungry partnership seekers? The biggest value is derived from aligning with the corporate’s core business. Then you don’t have to pick off individual department budgets or squeeze your partnership within a narrow description of that area’s responsibilities. Alignment means you can tap into what makes the corporate successful- and then you unlock oodles more value for your non-profit. Your partnership will integrate across multiple corporate departments, giving you a stickier, more valuable and more long- lasting relationship.
The partnership between UK grocery chain Tesco and World Wildlife Fund goes direct to Tesco’s core operations. It aims to reshape what the average customer puts in his basket, making healthier choices, sourcing more sustainably and reducing packaging waste. It gives Tesco a point of competitive difference in a cut-throat grocery market, reduces the waste and cost of their production and ensures a more reliable supply chain. For WWF the partnership will reduce food waste and mitigate the environmental degradation from inefficient food production. By going to the heart of Tesco’s core business i.e., the things that generate the real P&L, this partnership has unlocked much bigger value than targeting budgets in its individual cost centres.
So, don’t be that little duckling that looks in the wrong places for its mother. Sure, the different costs centres of HR, Marketing, PR and CSR have budgets, but they’re small potatoes and shrinking ones in difficult times. Build an understanding of what’s important to your corporate prospect and the challenges it faces at the core of its business. Then you’ll unlock a mother lode of value for your partnership.