I have three sections in my wardrobe. The first is full of the things that fit me well, make me feel comfortable and work in my favourite colours. I wear them all the time and they deliver for me, every time. The second is the aspirational section, which has things that worked a while ago, but I’ll need to drop 5 kilos to fit into again. I haven’t given up on them yet. The third is the legacy section. There’s a fair bit of guilt attached to this one. This section is full of things that I haven’t fitted into for ages, but they were too big an investment to throw away or donate to the op shop. I call this the legacy section because I’m hoping that my daughter (a svelte size 8) might want them some day. So far, it’s worked for a 90s retro theme party, but not much else.
My wardrobe is a perfect reflection of typical corporate partnership portfolios. There are some partnerships that are the ideal fit; they are easy decisions and each time you work together you create magic. Others have lost their lustre and it’s hard work to make them shine again. Then there’s the final category. You can’t remember why you partnered with them in the first place, but you need the money, so you’ve hung onto them. They are the partnership equivalent of shoulder pads and bubble skirts.
How do you make sure you’ve got the right fit corporate partners? Here are some simple questions to ask yourself.
Am I meeting the corporate’s needs, not just my own?
Pressures for fundraising dollars can drive charities to be very self-focused. The ‘case for support’ approach will get you some philanthropy but is unlikely to sustain a partnership over the longer term. I may love working in trackies and Ugg boots, but my audience is expecting a business suit. Are you clear on the corporate’s priorities, needs and key drivers? Unless you can demonstrate that you understand their needs and can help solve their problems, they may decide that your charity isn’t the best fit for them.
What would happen without me?
You know you’ve got the right fit corporate partner if they couldn’t achieve the same results without you. For examples, those results might be engagement with their core audience, like the partnership between Steel Blue boots and Beyond Blue. Steel Blue is able to support their core customer base of tradies with Beyond Blue’s resources and insights on mental health. It’s a great fit, as Beyond Blue provides specialist expertise and the partnership enables them to help a hard-to- reach cohort of young males. If your answer to this question is yes, then you’re at risk of being substituted or flipped for another charity. You need to identify what makes you special and unique and show your corporate partner the value for them and the social impact you can create together.
Can I manage this partnership to its full potential?
Sometimes you find the right fit, but you don’t have the reach or capacity to unlock the full potential of the partnership. It might be aligned to your values and your mission, but maybe you don’t have the national reach that the partner wants, or you don’t have experience in the type of marketing activations that are important to the partner. Sometimes it’s about finding those 1% improvements to do things a little bit better each time that can make a difference. When BCNA and Baker’s Delight began their partnership, it started small and grew over time as they got to know each other. Over many years it’s been worth over $15mln and has enable both organisations to grow. Other times, you might just need to harvest the wardrobe, call time on the legacy items, and create room for partnerships that are a better fit and more manageable.
It’s winter in Melbourne and we’re shedding the lockdown wear to squeeze into real clothes again. It’s time for you to take a Marie Kondo look at your partnership portfolio and think about refreshing, reprioritising and repositioning some of your relationships to get the fit right. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with a mismatched wardrobe of partners that no longer serves your needs or creates the impact you both seek.