What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s the favourite question that adults ask kids. How on earth do you know? In my fifth decade I’m still figuring it out. A better question would be to ask what you love doing and what makes you happy. My daughter at age 6 said she wanted to be a fairy princess rock star- combining her love of sparkly dresses with singing in the shower. No-one responds, ‘I want to be a partnership executive when I grow up.’ It’s one of those roles that fly under the radar and there’s no clear pathway for it. People arrive at partnerships through a myriad of routes, bringing a portfolio of different skills, experiences and qualifications. It’s one of the most challenging, yet rewarding jobs, but sometimes it’s hard to make the transition from your old life. If you’re an accidental partnership executive, how do you build on your existing skills and turn them into partnership superpowers? We find that there are 3 main routes for the accidental partnership executive.
- The corporate escapee
You’ve had a challenging role in corporate life, and you want to make a difference. Surely there’s more to life than selling insurance or marketing Dettol? You’ve built some great experience and skills in your corporate life, including sales, business development, maybe even commercial sponsorship. You’ll tap into all of them, but you’ll notice one big difference: you don’t have market power anymore. In your corporate role you had suppliers queueing up to do business with you and sell you their services and products. In your partnership role you’re one of thousands of non-profits vying for corporate attention. You don’t have tangible products, you’re selling hope. So you’ll need to think of it less like a sales volume game and work to build a really strong value proposition for corporates. Your sales disciplines and resilience will give you a great foundation and you can tap into the creative marketing side to bring your proposition to life.
- The conscript
Your non-profit may have been successful with community fundraising or events. You may have corporate volunteers or participants. Then the CEO thinks it’s a great idea to add corporate partnerships to your job description because, hey, you can just do it on your spare day right? But partnerships aren’t like fundraising, they’re different and special. If you want to make the transition to partnership executive, you’ll need to embrace the nuances and difference. Community fundraising is more about ‘build it and they will come’. Partnerships are all about relationships and creating the conditions for both partners to get value. Think beyond the case for support or glossy brochure and go deep into the objectives, motivations and needs of your corporate prospect. And you’ll need more than one spare day a week to do it!
- The Lone Ranger
You’re a leader, with a track record of managing teams and getting outcomes. You may have deep expertise in the issues that your non-profit addresses, like health research, human rights or homelessness. You’re probably a passionate advocate for your cause. But now you’ve got to ensure your organisation’s ongoing viability and you’re being asked to explore corporate partnerships. The advantage is that you’re in a position to set the strategic foundations, but you may not have the partnership skills or time to sustain corporate relationships. Before you pick up the phone to a corporate, get some help. Seek some expert advice to help you set up partnerships in the right way. An ad hoc approach will cause you more problems down the track. If it’s quick cash you need, then philanthropy is a better bet. Don’t forget to leverage your board’s skills and networks. They need to be allies and participants if you’re building a partnership program from scratch. You may be an accidental partnership executive, but you’re in one of the most rewarding and challenging roles you can find. It will stretch you and make you dig deep into all of your hard-won experience, skills and thinking. Keep learning and you’ll be able to turn all of that experience into partnership superpowers.