There is an old story about Winston Churchill taking a newly elected MP into the UK houses of parliament. Pointing across the chamber, the newbie asked, “Is that where the enemy sits?” Winston replied, “No my boy, the opposition occupies the benches in front of you. The enemy sits behind you”.
When you’re working hard to build great corporate partnerships, it can sometimes feel like the biggest challenges are with your internal teams, not your corporate prospects. This is magnified when you’re working in a federated organisation. Same brand but very different cultures, management and objectives can make it feel like you’re herding feral cats to get a partnership over the line. I once took a program specialist into a partnership meeting. We warmed up the corporate about the wonderful work being done for children in poverty. Then she casually mentioned that our organisation didn’t really need more money, we could easily get a government grant for the program. End of meeting.
Corporate partnerships need the whole of your organisation to contribute if you are going to be successful. What are the typical stages of opposition you need to address?
Partnerships are complex and they don’t easily fit into the neat categories of the fundraising team. They’re strategic and more about advancing your non-profits mission rather than simply dollars in the door. Confusion can arise because your colleagues and leadership simply don’t understand how partnerships work. They think you’re just the ‘department of free stuff’. How often have you received a request to just find them free wine for the gala ball, free plane tickets for a conference or a free venue for the team offsite? Confusion can be addressed by education. Share your knowledge about partnerships with your colleagues. Do a lunch and learn presentation. Offer to present to the board. I once inserted myself into an organisation’s induction program, so that every newcomer got insights into partnerships early.
Lack of understanding can easily lead to conflict. You’re all busy people with different KPIs. Often, it’s only when something fails that you notice how siloed you all are. NFP leaders need to pre-empt conflict and the inevitable blame game by ensuring that everyone knows how their role is linked to successful partnerships. Leaders can align KPIs and start to build a culture of partnerships. Leading by example and getting more deeply involved in the partnership process is a great way to start. The alternative is paralysis, and your partnerships will never get beyond ad hoc philanthropy.
Greater understanding creates clarity for everyone. Your colleagues will realise why you need that report on time, how your partner expects recognition on social media or why your CEO needs to make time for that important corporate meeting. You can build more clarity by sharing latest news with your colleagues, making your pipeline and corporate targets transparent for everyone and sharing partnership successes. Making things more visible will help to break down the team silos and avoid the distrust and doubts that breed in the dark.
Great solutions and innovative ideas come from collaboration. As a partnership manager you’ll be dealing with a range of people working for your corporate partner. You can’t possibly be an expert in every are from marketing, HR, media to finance. You’ll need to mobilise the range of skills within your organisation to make the partnership work. The key to collaboration is communication. Think about an internal communications plan. You create one for your best partners, but I bet you don’t think about your colleagues and internal stakeholders in the same way.
Sustainable partnerships need a coalition of skills, people and resources. I’m looking at you, non-profit CEOs and leaders to help make this happen. Leaders need to build a culture of partnerships and not rely on the partnership manager to be the main change maker. You’ve given them big KPIs to focus on. If you’re targeting a major corporate partner you need to create a working group or a coalition of colleagues to devise the solutions, develop the approach and ensure that you can sustain and nurture the relationship.
You can choose to build allies within your organisation, rather than experience the frustration and stress of continual opposition. NFP leaders- it starts with you.