Perspective: Do we have to be sexy to win a corporate partner?

Let’s be honest, a pug isn’t the best-looking dog. It’s got a face that looks like it’s been hit with a brick, it wheezes like an asthmatic in a pollen storm and it won’t be qualifying for agility trials anytime soon. But clearly there are thousands of owners who see beyond its limitations and can’t wait to add a pug to the family home.  

Every week we hear from charities who’d love a corporate partner, but think that they’re not big enough, not well known or their cause is too niche or complicated for a corporate partner. In short, they’re not sexy. 

At Stellar Partnerships we talk to a lot of corporate, big and small, and you’d be surprised at how many businesses are really attracted to small, niche or grassroots charities that you never see on big billboard adverts. Here’s some of the key things they tell us about why they chose their charity partners: 

1. Clarity on strategy and direction

Can your charity succinctly summaries what it does and where it’s going? Or do you have a mission statement that’s half a page long and uses lots of jargon? If you struggle to be clear on what you do, then it’s not going to be obvious why a corporate should partner with you. When we worked with Carman’s to find a charity partner, they were impressed by a small organisation with low brand recognition and only 6 staff. What impressed Carman’s was how clearly they communicated to their audience and how easy it would be to measure success. “More than 60 million girls around the world are not in school. We aim to educate 1 million of them”. A great, punchy way to describe the work of One Girl and the organisation’s marketing and ethos matched this clarity of purpose. 

2. The opportunity for deeper involvement and lasting impact
‘Don’t put Baby in a corner’, as they say in the movies. Do you want corporate to just write a cheque and let your charity get on with its business? Think again. Corporates want the chance to become more deeply involved in what you do and feel like they own part of your collective success. That can include offering skills, mentoring, access to networks or long- term volunteering within your teams or programs. Your charity may not be large or well known at the moment, but perhaps you can offer a corporate the chance to grow with you and work collaboratively on the social issues you’re trying to solve. You’re trying to build a long-term relationship, so don’t be afraid to let your corporate partner get to know you more closely.

 1. Alignment with their values and core interests
I once worked to find a partner for a new program in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea, helping educate men on non-violent relationships with women and girls. It wasn’t glamorous and there were no media snippets or big brand names involved. I found that the biggest cost for the program was printing of the training materials for its community workers as they had no internet connection in such remote areas. We found an ideal corporate partner whose entire business was about printing and who was passionate about how print can transform lives. The program gave them the opportunity to showcase the impact of print and make a lasting difference to vulnerable women and girls. 

2. The opportunity to connect in a new way with a shared audience
REST is a superannuation company serving workers across the retail sector, predominantly young people. REST was looking to engage with its core customer base in a way that created meaningful value with its young consumers. That’s why it partnered with head space, the national youth mental health foundation, to help it reach vulnerable young people in regional and rural areas. It’s a perfect alignment of core interests and values. 

 Many charities think that corporate partnerships are only about brand and promotion and that’s why the smaller ones look on enviously at the big charity brand names. But whilst it can be a factor for some corporate, there are many other drivers for a partnership between charities and corporate. The challenge for charities is to think more broadly about the opportunity and getting your organisation ready for a partnership.

 So, the next time you see a pug walking happily with its doting owner, remember that the unconventional can be sexy too- you don’t have to be the big, photogenic golden retriever to find a happy ending.

Linda Garnett and Sharon Dann
12 October 2018

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