We’ve talked about providing solutions to a corporate partner’s problems and how you should solve, not sell. But that’s not the same as reinventing your organisation to suit your corporate partner. You need to stay true to who you are and be confident in that position.
It reminds me of the old joke about radio conversation with a naval ship. It goes like this:
American naval captain: Please divert your course 15 degrees east to avoid a collision.
British seaman: Recommend YOU divert your course to avoid a collision.
American captain: This is the captain of a US navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
British seaman: No. I say again, YOU divert YOUR course.
American captain: This is the aircraft carrier the USS Lincoln, the biggest in the Pacific fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I DEMAND that you change your course by 15 degrees, or I will be forced to take offensive action.
British seaman: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
We think your charity needs to be more of a lighthouse with your corporate partners. That doesn’t mean you’re inflexible or deaf to their needs. It does mean being true to your mission and values when you’re looking for alignment with the right partner. Corporates want to partner with you for your authenticity, expertise and independence. It’s what makes you valuable and special- and why they’d like a piece of that magic too.
Make active choices to find the right partner
I’ve lost count of the times that charities create a brand-new program from scratch because their prospective corporate partner didn’t like what was on offer. I was once given a ‘hot lead’ by my board chair and told to put in a proposal for a company they introduced. The charity didn’t meet any of the criteria in the brief, had no programs in the area and didn’t know what they’d do with the money if we won the partnership. But it was $1 million so we had to find something. It was a tortuous process trying to create a bespoke program, persuading our experts to tailor something to that corporate. Of course, we didn’t win the partnership, and we spent months of wasted time and effort on it.
Far better to make active choices on the right fit corporate partner and decide who you want to work with. That means some internal discussions about who is on your no-go list and which corporates are best aligned with your mission, values and ambitions. Even if you get some cold approaches, you’ll be in the driving seat. You can provide the clarity on strategic direction and the social impact that your work can achieve, which will help you guide partnership discussions in the right direction. No need to shift your lighthouse and change course radically.
Inspire a partner with your ambitions and invite them to collaborate
I once worked with a big multinational FMCG partner. They wanted to support a limited campaign around one of their health and hygiene products. They asked, “I’ve got $50,000 to spend; which disease can we eradicate for that?” Given that Bill Gates had just pledged $1 billion to eradicate polio, the only thing we were likely to fix up was head lice in my 6-year old’s primary school. It was up to me to guide their investment to something of mutual interest that was going to make a meaningful difference.
Most corporates aren’t really sure what they’re looking for. Like an amateur art collector, they’ll just know they like it when they see it. You have the freedom to inspire the corporate with your vision and ambition for the social change you want to create and then explain how they can work with you to achieve it together.
Remember they’re expecting YOU to be the experts, so don’t be afraid to lead with conviction and confidence.
You have more power than you think
In a competitive business environment, corporates are highly tuned to the perceptions of their brand in the community. With recent research showing that charities are more trusted than governments, and consumers are looking for authentic corporate commitments to the community, your charity can be a huge asset to a corporate partner.
When Beyond Blue announced their partnership with Australia Post, they brought a ton of expertise and credibility to their partner. Australia Post are now able to demonstrate their commitment to improving mental health and highlight the value of leveraging their national network for the benefit of all Australians.
It’s tempting in turbulent times to try for every corporate prospect that shows interest. Your corporate partner might be as big as an aircraft carrier to your little rowboat, but don’t forget your core mission and what makes you special. Be the lighthouse. It will be so much more valuable than trying to change course every time.
When you’re ready- here are 3 ways we can help you:
- Subscribe to our Partnerships News in the box below and get our latest blogs, tips and free resources.
- Register for our next group training session on Partnership Acquisition Skills to build your confidence in winning new partners.
- Work with us 1-1 to find out where to find your best partnership opportunities and unlock new income for your charity. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a FREE consultation.