Taking the F word out of partnerships

Proportion
Categories: Blog

My son was an early reader. At kindergarten he devoured letters and numbers and knew his favourite books by heart. It made it tricky to avoid things that weren’t fit for a 5-year old’s eyes. By prep he still thought that the F word was FAT – something rude and unkind that must clearly be a swear word. It was all going well until French Connection decided on a bold new marketing campaign. 10 metre billboards on the freeway with FCUK in huge letters prompted a flurry of questions that lasted for days.

The F word in partnerships is “fundraising”. Corporate partnerships are typically the awkward teenagers in a non-profit family; they look familiar, but it’s an uneasy fit. That’s why partnerships are usually corralled into fundraising. But treating corporate partnerships as fundraising leads to some misguided approaches and a lot of wasted time and effort. Here’s why.

Low impact for lots of effort

Corporate philanthropy is a small bucket of money that’s shrinking fast. In tough economic environments, the cheap cheque disappears as it’s discretionary spend. If your non-profit leads with a fundraising approach, similar to a case for support with major donors, you’re usually presenting a program or service for funding. But then you’re stuck. You are limited to the amount you can spend on that project. In order to meet your financial KPIs you’re forced to find more and more corporate ‘donors’ to hit those targets. It means you end up with a portfolio of small scale, low value partnerships that burn your time an effort. You’re also unlikely to get the impact you need for your cause.

It’s all about me, not we

Partnerships should be an invitation to collaborate and make a meaningful impact on a social issue together. Fundraising is just a bilateral transaction, an exchange of money and goods. A corporate partner gives you some of its plentiful resources and your non-profit tries to create some good with it. I worked with a charity who had convinced a large energy company to support 100 sponsorships for girls’ education in Rwanda. It was lucrative annual income that boosted the partnership team’s KPIs. But the energy company had no alignment to the work in Rwanda and no participation other than the annual payment. When management changed, they couldn’t find a single reason to keep supporting these sponsorships. Instead they switched to supporting valuable work for disadvantaged families in regional Victoria, where they operated. The new partnership enabled them to offer volunteers, skills and support to make a real impact on local families. If you’re focused on fundraising and meeting financial KPIs only, then it’s too easy to forget that it’s about partnerships- and what you can do together.

Missing out on other value

We know your non-profit needs money and we love to see big cheques. But in the urgent search for fundraising income, you can miss out on bigger buckets of value that could create more impact for your charity. Lead with value and the money will come, but if you lead with your fundraising gap, you may never unlock the untapped value that lies below.

When RUOK partnered with Sensis and Yellow Pages, it put the charity on the front page of 5 million directories Australia wide and the Sensis online platform. The impact for the charity was so much greater than simply asking for money. Yes, there is cash in the partnership to fund some specific programs. But RUOK and Yellow have followed with dedicated resources for small business owners and tradies- a notoriously hard to reach demographic for mental health messages. If RUOK had simply asked for money, they would have funded some small-scale advertising themselves. Now, through the partnership, they’re reaching millions of people each day.

Switch the conversation from fundraising to partnerships. Build relationships that invite your partner into a collaboration. Lead with value and know that the money will come. If you obsess over the F word that is Fundraising, you’ll get stuck in the cycle of frustration that will burn time, resources, and staff effort. Time to bury that F word for good.

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