Children get fixated on something that fascinates them. My daughter loved gardening when she was little. She planted her flowers gently, watered them diligently and talked to them daily. She waited in hope for a blooming garden. Unfortunately, she’d chosen to plant plastic flowers from her Lego Friends kit. There was no botanical bonanza at the end of summer.
A recent post by James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, reminded me that ‘exerting more effort doesn’t help if you’re on the wrong trajectory’. When you’re working hard for corporate partnerships and your CEO is pushing hard for more income, it’s hard to see that the much needed path to prosperity is actually a blind alley.
Here are some common ways we can get stuck and unstuck on the partnership path.
Working harder on the wrong thing just wastes more time.
Recently I’ve seen a number of charities celebrating their efforts on creating a glossy and slick partnership prospectus or case for support. It’s then used as a mass reach out document, encouraging corporates to express their interest in partnerships. I cringe to think of the time and money wasted here. They’ve missed the core element about partnerships- it’s all about them, not you. A glossy prospectus or brochure is just another shopfront for a non-profit’s activities and programs. It says nothing about what you can do for the corporate’s business priorities or pain points. Your partnership will ultimately be signed off by the CFO or CEO who need a good reason to make the investment.
Learning more from the wrong source will lead you further from the truth.
Partnerships are not the same as fundraising. Good relationship management skills are helpful for both corporates and donors, but that’s where the similarity ends. You connect with donors on something that speaks to their personal experience and values. You entice corporate partners with a solution that meets their business priorities. Partnerships people often sit within a bigger fundraising team, as management doesn’t quite know where they fit. That means they are learning the language of fundraising, cases for support and donor conversion strategies. All of which are largely useless for partnerships. Non-profits need to invest in specialised learning for partnerships people, that enables them to build a strong commercial proposition for corporates. Otherwise you’ll be doomed to plant plastic flowers and be disappointed about the harvest.
Doubling down on a toxic relationship only sets you up for more headaches.
Putting in greater time, effort and resources won’t change the result if your partner is moribund. You can tell it’s time to stop when they don’t engage with your events and invitations. Or they have relegated the relationship to a very junior person in the corporate team who doesn’t have authority, budget or influence. Your emails and calls may go unanswered, and the corporate partner is stubbornly resisting your efforts to renew or grow their commitment. The best decision is to look hard at the ROI on the partnership and conduct a clear- eyed review of whether it still meets your needs. It may have been a great fit at the start, but things change over time. Choose to harvest or exit if the value is no longer there for you.
Before you try harder, make sure you are walking a path that leads where you want to go
If you have a partnership portfolio of lifeless relationships or prospects, adding more to the pile won’t help you reach that stretch target. You’ll end up wasting a lot of time and energy trying to resuscitate them, at the expense of new opportunities that could be more valuable. It’s a natural human instinct to avoid loss and preserve what you already have, rather than take the risk of something unknown. But in this case, it will be a slow spiral of decline and you’ll miss out on big, juicy new partnership prospects that deserve your time and focus.
It’s almost the end of 2023 and time to take a hard look at the partnerships and practices that are not yielding rewards. Make sure your plan for 2024 involves working on the right things to give you a slice of that $5bln in corporate giving.