Nuggets of corporate partnership gold amidst the crisis

When Stellar Partnerships hosted a corporate partnership webinar a few weeks ago, we asked corporate partnerships professionals how they were feeling in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Exhausted, anxious, unsure or nervous all featured frequently in the comments.

Whilst there are undoubted challenges and disappointments that everyone is still dealing with, we’ve been thrilled to see the emergence of new corporate partnership opportunities and some innovative collaborations in response to the crisis. Three weeks on from the first webinar the comments are more hopeful: optimistic, settled, positive. Let’s celebrate the early wins and learn from the key themes emerging.

1. The value of deep, integrated relationships
Some had feared that the hibernation of many businesses would kill off corporate partnerships stone dead. However, it’s clear that charities with long term, well aligned relationships with corporate partners are reaping the benefits of trust, engagement and a deep commitment to their cause. In many case those partners have stepped up their support to help the charity respond to the crisis. Full marks to Beyond Blue and Medibank after the latter committed $5 million to help fund a new COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service. Similarly, ANZ donated $1.5 million to three of its long-term community partners, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Smith Family and Financial Counselling Foundation to help mitigate the impact of the crisis on the most disadvantaged in society.

The more transactional corporate partnerships are suffering the worst losses and these are frequently to be found in events where corporates provide sponsorship. Where the event is part of a larger and deeper engagement strategy with the corporate then it’s been easier for the charity to pivot into other options. Where the event is the only, typically annual engagement with the corporate, then the roots of the relationship are often shallow and not fully integrated with the cause. Maybe the corporate sponsors and participants of that marathon, cycle ride or trek were simply alpha business types who loved the activity but weren’t really aligned to the cause. Charities are finding that the cheap philanthropic cheque has disappeared into a budget black hole and the future of sponsorship is uncertain.

2. Corporates are stepping up
Corporates who are clear on their social purpose and brand identity are stepping up because their customers and employees have high expectations of their role in this crisis. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer special report on COVID-19 reveals some startling findings:

  •  65% agree that a brand’s response to the crisis will have an impact on their future purchasing behaviour
  •  89% want to know that the corporate brand is helping in the crisis
  •  71% agree that if they perceive that a corporate is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in it forever
  •  1 in 3 have already punished corporate brands that did not respond well

Corporates are responding because it’s good for business, they want to support the community and are making significant contributions to charities that can demonstrate meaningful impact during this crisis. Suncorp donated $1million to The Smith Family to address digital inclusion for disadvantaged students; Rydges Hotels provided single use toiletries from all their venues to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Coles and Woolworths have made multiple donations to food relief and other charities across Australia. The crisis has provided the opportunity for corporates to connect with the community in meaningful ways and charities have benefited from new levels of commitment to social impact.

3. The end of ‘them and us’
We’ve often talked about how charities and their corporate partners are typically compared to Mars and Venus- speaking different languages across a divide between ‘them and us’. The COVID-19 crisis has been the catalyst to debunk that myth once and for all- we really are all in it together. It’s ‘us’ that face challenges threatening our common humanity and by working in partnership ‘we’ will find solutions. As the crisis feeds the monster of family violence it’s been fantastic to see an innovative partnership between NAB and No to Violence, who work with male perpetrators of violence. Together with Melbourne University they have created the Better Man website to motivate men to seek help earlier. What a great example of creating value and meaningful social impact through partnerships.

Despite the initial sharp shocks to budget forecasts, the COVID-19 crisis has been the catalyst for innovation and new opportunities in partnerships between corporates and charities. Let’s celebrate the early wins and the nuggets of gold amidst the gloom and focus on a future where corporate partnerships are true collaborations that deliver real impact on social issues.

Linda Garnett
04 May 2020

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