My first solo flight as a pilot was an anxious milestone. I was at 3,000 ft realising that no-one is going to land this plane safely but me, and acutely aware of how easy it would be to crash into the rugby posts in the neighbouring field. I learned that a common way for pilots to crash was a ‘controlled descent into terrain’. It simply means that the pilot has spent too much time glued to the dashboard, tweaking the instruments, and has forgotten to get her head up from the dashboard to look out of the cockpit window towards the horizon.
During the COVID-19 crisis we’ve all been busy with our heads down in preserving corporate partnerships, watching the numbers and working through our checklists. But now is the time to lift our heads, look out to the far horizon and start to figure out where we’re going- before a crash landing becomes the outcome.
I prefer maps and instruments to crystal balls, so I’ve been focused on creating a new flight plan towards the corporate partnerships landscape that I see in my cockpit window. Here are the things that should be shaping your new plan.
Next 6 months
- Strong and strategically aligned relationships are holding fast, and partners are renewing commitments or stepping up. This is particularly the case with charities that have mature portfolios of partners and deep relationships eg Beyond Blue with Austereo, Coles and their partner Foodbank. However, that doesn’t mean it’s too late for smaller charities to secure corporate partners, quite the contrary. There is a real corporate appetite for authentic and meaningful connection with local communities, which provides a big opportunity for smaller organisations working with small to medium sized businesses. The Goongerah Wombat Orphanage in Victoria was hard hit by bushfires and needed to keep their baby wombats warm and secure. The partnership with Gippsland Solar brought reliable energy for their incubators, donated goods and the ability to mobilise the local community for support. The key to success is in finding the right alignment rather than templated proposals blasted to hundreds of cold prospects.
- New focus on goods and services in kind. There will be less cash around in the short term, so expect partners to switch to pro bono goods and services to continue their support. This is what happened after the 2008 GFC and is an opportunity for charities to strengthen the relationships with corporate partners and nurture until cash flow picks up again. Examples include Rydges Hotels providing toiletries to Royal Flying Doctor Service, Sharp donating bags of rice to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Heinz UK providing 12 million free breakfasts to children whose schools are closed. In-kind or pro bono goods and services are a great opportunity to anchor a corporate partnership during turbulent times and the trust built between partners will ensure that your charity is first on the list when cash income is back on the table.
- Demand for quality content and engagement. This is being driven by the need for employee engagement but also corporates wanting to connect authentically with their broader customer audience. The opportunity for Zoom to partner with Guide Dogs on a live puppy webinar was the perfect way to inspire Zoom employees with original and engaging content, in addition to driving positive media and customer participation. What a neat idea to call the puppy ‘Zoom’ too- nice one Guide Dogs!
- Opportunities for adaptation and innovation. Corporates are responding well to creative new ways to partner with charities. See the Lifeline campaign ’30 seconds to save a life’ in which corporates are asked to donate 30 seconds of their prime advertising time. Corporates are willing to bring their skills, resources and networks to a cause if the charity can clearly outline the impact they can achieve, not just ask for cash to fill a funding gap.
- Opportunities for new partnerships, but increased competition. Some corporates are thriving, others barely surviving. There will be partnership opportunities, but a charity will have to work harder on a more compelling proposition to compete for a smaller pool of support. That means shifting from the old paradigm of a ‘case for support’, asking a corporate to fund one of your programs, to a broader invitation to collaborate, innovate and co-create.
Next 12- 18 months
- Fewer, more strategic partnerships. Corporates are reviewing their budgets and their community programs to reflect their new business conditions and expectations. For example, Coles is about to commence a strategic review of all their community partnerships and is expected to rationalise their list of charity partners. The outcome will be fewer partners, more strategically aligned and creating bigger social impact through the partnership.
- Social purpose grows in importance. Consumer behaviour is changing. There is a real push from consumers to prefer corporates that are making a meaningful contribution to the community and not be seen to be profiteering from a crisis. That means corporates will be more active in demonstrating their social purpose credentials to stay connected with their customer and employee base. That will create partnership opportunities for charities who can provide that authentic connection to community impact.
- Sponsorship will continue to struggle. Traditional arts and sports sponsorships were already in decline as sponsors were seeking broader partnership arrangements and community engagement. There will be less money and less appetite for sponsorships, so charities seeking sponsors for fundraising events will have to create new ways for a corporate to engage with their cause beyond logos on event collateral.
The new horizon for corporate partnerships still looks positive, but non-profits must build some resilience for the turbulence ahead. That means refining partnership skills, building a strong value proposition for corporate partners and approaching partnerships as a collaboration rather than an exchange of value. Keep your head out of the dashboard and make sure you’re pointing in the right direction for the runway if you want to avoid a crash landing.
If you need help in adapting for the new corporate partnership landscape then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.