Not every relationship goes to plan. You start with high hopes and enthusiasm but not every frog turns into a handsome prince. Sometimes they just stay warty and you’re left with a faint taste of pond weed in the mouth.
In the current environment it’s tempting to stay with corporate partners when they’re no longer a great fit for you. Yes, it’s easier to nurture an existing partner than win a new one. But if they’re hogging the couch, scoffing your food and leaving you with their dirty laundry, then it’s time to reposition or move on. Your non-profit has limited resources and pressing community problems to solve. Time to put partnerships on track or find ones that want a meaningful relationship.
If you’re wondering how to have that difficult conversation with a corporate partner, here are some ways to approach it.
Schedule an impact update
This could be a quarterly or semi-annual event to share an update on the progress of the partnership and what you’ve achieved together. Make sure it’s regular so you can address any issues whilst they’re current. Sometimes the corporate partner is not aware of things going off track. I once met with the executives at Jetstar to lay out the facts of a charity partnership. The cost of setting up the partnership had cost the charity $24,000 with no meaningful revenue from Jetstar yet, despite big promises and a PR launch. The impact update was enough to get the partnership back on track and motivate Jetstar to get focused on their commitments. The partnership went on to earn millions for the charity over many years.
Check the contract
Does it explicitly state the mutual expectations and deliverables? If so, can you remind your corporate partner of what you both intended to do together? This is a good start point for a review of the partnership and things that need to be addressed. It’s a factual approach that takes the heat out of any simmering resentment. Like a marriage that’s settled into bad habits, you need to break the cycle.
Lay out some options
If you or your partner are going in a new direction you need to provide some options. They could be in a tough market right now and would like to step down in commitment but stay with you. Or you could inspire them to step up with a new project or innovation. Being proactive shows that you value the relationship and you’re prepared to work with them on it.
Don’t be afraid to exit
Sometimes partnerships come to the end of their natural life. It means you’re free to pursue new opportunities that are a better fit. Before you do the classic break up things like get a new hairdo or refresh your wardrobe, don’t forget to thank them. Make them feel valued for the commitment they made and what you’ve achieved for the community. Better to turn them into advocates than have them bag you on Tinder afterwards.
There are plenty of partnerships opportunities emerging, despite the turbulence of 2020. Don’t let yourself make excuses for the frogs in your portfolio. Return them to the pond and find an opportunity that will give you a happy ever after.
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