“You are not going out dressed like that!” I can hear my mother’s words echoing in my head from my teenage years. It’s fair to say I experimented with a bunch of outfits that ranged from fashion forward to downright weird. The shock and horror that usually greeted my mum’s first view of my chosen Saturday night outfit were less about fashion and more about what I thought I was getting ready for. I thought it was to be the belle of the disco. Mum thought it looked more like sex work outside a crack house.
When we talk with non-profits about being ready for partnerships, their thoughts go straight to resourcing. They typically use a ‘hire and hope’ approach. This means bringing in a dedicated resource, giving them a big financial KPI and setting them loose. But there are more fundamental questions that your non-profit needs to answer to make sure you’re best dressed for corporate partnerships.
In his book Net Positive, Paul Polman explores how corporates can embed social purpose at the heart of their organisation and not just tick a box for positive PR. Some of those key questions can be applied to non-profits to test whether partnerships are truly core to your strategy and you’re ready for corporate partners.
- Do you know how corporate partners contribute to your NFP’s growth and mission?
Have you considered how a partnership will help drive your organisation forward? You need to know what you need from a corporate partner and how that helps to deliver on your core mission. Of course you need extra income, but does that simply enable business as usual? If a partnership is not strategically aligned to your growth and mission, then it will be harder to inspire a partner to come on the journey with you. You’ll also find it difficult to convince your staff that time spent on the partnership is worth it. You’ll end up with transactional relationships, like a series of one-night stands, rather than a true partnership. If you think that all you need is extra money, then you’d be better off spending your time nurturing major donors and grants.
- How can corporates significantly influence your strategic goals and ambitions?
It almost feels like heresy to think about corporates helping to shape a non-profit’s future. NFPs are resolutely independent and don’t like to be told they’re not experts. But a real partnership can expand the ambitions of your organisation and encourage you to think bigger and bolder about what you can achieve. Corporates come with a set of skills, assets and strengths that your NFP doesn’t have. Tapping into them can expand your horizons and your ambitions. The partnership in the UK between Tesco and four health charities enables the organisations to tap into data from the 80 million visits per week from Tesco customers. It creates a wealth of insights and reach that they couldn’t achieve alone. You need to think about what a corporate can contribute to your goals and ambitions.
- Do you need to clarify or develop your core value proposition?
Is everyone in your organisation on the same page about who you are, why you do it and what you offer to the world? More importantly, can you explain it to a layperson in the corporate world in terms they will understand? Preferably without a theory of change diagram and program jargon. Many organisations are gold medallists in telling a corporate what they do but fail to make the podium when they explain the Why. If your NFP doesn’t have a clear and succinct view of your Why internally, then how can you inspire partners?
- Will corporate partnerships affect how you manage your team and organisational capabilities?
When Legacy Australia started looking for corporate partners to support their centenary campaign, they didn’t realise how it would impact on the way their organisation works internally. Legacy is made up of different clubs and state offices scattered across Australia. They’ve often worked in silos with different leaders, different programs and different views on the future of the organisation. They committed dedicated resources and invested in building their capabilities in partnerships. Working to develop significant corporate partners has provided the catalyst for a more unified team, working together and revitalising the future of organisation by winning million-dollar sized commitments from new partners. Are you ready to be flexible enough to manage the change that partnerships can drive?
- Do corporate partnerships take up part of the agenda of your leadership and board meetings every time?
How often are corporate partnerships discussed meaningfully at the highest levels of your organisation? I don’t mean just as a line item in the fundraising budget. Commitment by leadership and board is essential to developing a strategic approach to partnerships. It sets the expectations for the whole organisation about everyone’s contribution to successful partnerships and enables your non-profit to allocate appropriate resources and support to the partnership effort. Your board ad leaders may not have a magic rolodex of corporate contacts, but they will need to be present and willing to participate in partnership discussions. When Save the Children and Glaxosmithkline started their award-winning partnership, it was at board and CEO level. You can’t delegate to a single partnership manager and expect them to make miracles happen.
We’d love to see you best dressed for new partnerships. Before you think about hiring a partnership manager and giving them a hefty KPI, take a look inside your organisation first and make sure you’ve got the fundamentals in place.