During the summer holidays our habits change. We get used to sleeping in, moving at a slower pace in the heat, long lunches and ice cream in the sun. As the holidays come to an end, we have to shed some of those habits as they no longer serve us for the year ahead. For me, it’s back to shoes instead of thongs and goodbye to the afternoon naps.
If you want to grow partnerships in 2023, you’ll need to examine the habits that have developed in your organisation and whether they are supporting or hindering your partnership success. It’s often a balancing act between the risk of change and the opportunity for a new approach. But the partnership landscape is changing fast, and you’ll need to make the shift or get left behind.
When an organisation has been successful in building a strong source of revenue, it can become over reliant on the one cash cow. A prime example is the international child sponsorship model that has been popular for more than 50 years. It’s an established formula that’s provided reliable income for many organisations, including World Vision, Plan International and ChildFund. But it is high risk, with the bulk of income concentrated in one main source. Interest in sponsorship models has been declining for some time and the model itself has been criticised as perpetuating colonial era stereotypes. But partnership executives trying to develop partnership programs in such organisations face an uphill battle to get attention and support. It’s like trying to offer a la carte service in MacDonald’s – the whole system is set up to deliver something else and partnerships become marginal at best. If non-profits want to break out of the stagnation that comes with one concentrated source of revenue, there needs to be support at the very top for a strategic shift towards other avenues for growth.
For organisations that recognise the risk and wish to diversify, they often take an incremental approach. Don’t kill the golden goose, just find another market for the eggs. That leads to partnership executives being asked to work with the same offering, just selling to the corporate market. Rather than sell one child sponsorship, try bulk offerings. Instead of a government grant, try corporate grants. It may lead to some incremental improvement but is rarely sustainable. Successful partnership programs recognise that the corporate market is very different to individual giving. That means a completely different offering that is tailored to the needs and priorities of the corporate prospect, not an off the shelf product that was actually designed for someone else.
The danger of income that is highly concentrated should be motivation enough to seek new opportunities. Corporate giving continues to increase, despite economic turbulence, with $1.4billion given by the top 50 Australian companies in 2022. It’s a target market with a big appetite for partnerships and an urgent need to demonstrate authentic support for the community. There is plenty of opportunity for non-profits to step beyond their comfort zone and explore new avenues for growth. But being motivated to chase revenue often comes at the expense of exploring the true value of partnerships. Corporates bring value beyond cash, including networks, channels, skills, products and people. Success in partnerships must be considered holistically, or the bigger opportunity for partnerships will not be realised.
Diversified revenue leads to lower risk and the opportunity for innovation. Partnerships are not just about revenue, despite the persistence of revenue KPIs for partnership executives. They are an opportunity to transform the whole organisation and achieve social impact that can’t be done alone. When Fujitsu partnered with Camp Quality they started with traditional fundraising. The COVID pandemic inspired a different kind of conversation and Fujitsu offered their technology know-how to help Camp Quality improve their offering to families and kids affected by cancer. The Kids’ Guide to Cancer app now provides age -appropriate health education and support to help kids understand their illness and has been nominated for innovation awards.
Habits can be hard to break and even harder when you’re trying to get the whole organisation to shift. It requires commitment and support from the highest levels of leadership and a partnership executive can’t do this alone. But the alternative is stagnation and high risk. In the iconic book ‘Who Moved my Cheese?” you can either stay in the same place and wonder where your cheese has gone or get up and find a new cheese. Start some new habits and make 2023 the year to find those juicy new opportunities.