“When someone needs a life raft, don’t try to sell them a yacht” Taki France
The humble BandAid is much maligned. BandAid solutions are seen as short term and ineffective. But if you’ve ever had a hangnail, which catches on your clothes and makes your finger sore all day, then a BandAid is exactly what you need.
When you’re talking with corporate prospects, you’ll find a big spectrum of needs and ambitions. Some may have big dreams of transforming the world whilst others just need a quick fix for their business needs. The trick for you is to tailor your approach to their needs and pitch something that’s the best fit for their priorities.
When you’re having your early discovery meetings with a corporate, try to assess their motivations and stage of development. You’ll be able to tailor your ask, create better solutions and have a realistic view of the ROI you’re likely to achieve. Here’s a summary of the key stages of corporate thinking we’ve uncovered.
These companies are solely focused on turning a profit. Like some ultra rich people, they don’t feel the urge to give a cent to non-profits. They’re often companies with rapid growth and they’re too busy acquiring new business to think about the bigger picture. But they usually have issues that are rumbling below the surface. Poor employee value proposition, high staff turnover or uncomfortable questions from customers and investors they can’t answer. A partnership with your non-profit can help them find solutions. They may not think they need you, but when you scratch the surface with good questions, you can uncover the underlying problems. Just don’t expect a big contribution, as their mindset is stuck in squeezing the last bit of profit out of their operations.
You’ll find a ton of companies that are addressing their poor reputation or underlying issues by buying good. You’ll find them offering to sponsor sports or events, giving out small community grants or focusing on multiple staff volunteering opportunities. They can give your income KPI a nice sugar hit, but you’ll need to offer some great PR and staff participation in return. The mining giant Glencore supports plenty of grassroots charities, including Dolly’s Dream where its logo is prominently displayed on their vehicles. But Glencore shows no sign of remedying the constant breaches of labour rights, poor working conditions, bribery and fraud issues. It’s buying goodwill and the partnerships are putting lipstick on a pig. Companies that are buying good can be very lucrative, but you need to be clear-eyed about the risk and the quid pro quo for your non-profit.
Corporates are under pressure from their staff and customers to demonstrate how they’re supporting the community. Behaviour that’s not authentic is scrutinised and exposed. When a bunch of companies tweeted their support of Black Lives Matter, the Twittersphere responded, “now post a picture of your leadership team’. Ouch. Plenty of companies are trying hard to change their internal practices and processes in areas such as diversity and inclusion, gender equity and sustainability. They don’t have it all fixed, but they’re open to working with non-profits to help them with their journey. These are prime opportunities for your partnership prospecting, as they have the right mindset and they’ll be open to growing with you. Think of how Beyond Blue and Australia Post are working together to improve the mental health of Australians. You’re likely to get more value than a quick sponsorship fix from these corporate and there’s plenty of potential value for your partnership.
Companies with a publicly stated social purpose narrative and a track record in innovation are likely to yield the best value and the greatest social impact from a partnership. The latest partnership between BUPA and WomenCan offers training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged women re-entering the workforce. It’s a great example of both organisations using their expertise, networks and assets to create a win-win for the corporate and the community. Your partnership approach to these types of companies can be more ambitious and look for multiple pillars of value. You’re also more likely to get a multi-year commitment from them. By understanding the different stages of evolution and their needs and priorities, you can save yourself a lot of time and heartache in shaping your proposition. You’ll get a realistic view of their likely commitment and you won’t get your hopes up for those who want a quick transactional relationship. Make sure you don’t waste your time selling a yacht when they’re only up for a dinghy.