Partnership with businesses can bring many benefits. They can provide much needed funds from marketing or community budgets, good PR, brand awareness, expertise and gifts in kind.
However, they do take work to get right, and without the correct preparation they can cause problems and conflicts. Putting the right things in place at the set up of the relationship will ensure a smooth partnership that will bring benefits for your charity and a successful outcome for a corporate partner.
It is important to regard the relationship as a joint endeavour, and one that needs to work for both parties. Both parties will have scope to negotiate. A charity should not just accept without questioning the terms proposed by the company. It is important to be aware that the value of a partnership may far outweigh the direct cost to a company.
Whether a charity is approaching a company or vice versa, it is important to learn as much as you can about the organisation, and to undertake a full assessment to identify why it might be inclined to support you before making an approach and setting up a partnership. The process of due diligence is as important in the charity sector as it is in the corporate sector.
A policy on working with companies, agreed by the trustees, is essential for a charity to be able to engage effectively with the corporate sector. The policy should define the parameters of associations across all types of corporate and partnership activity. However this is just the first step. There needs to be a process for decision-making, including a clear delegation of responsibilities, since working with companies is the classic example of where value judgements need to be made. All those responsible for the development of these relationships should be given specific instruction on the charity's boundaries on corporate engagement and at what point the decision-making body decides whether or not an initiative should proceed. The complexity of the issues that need to be addressed will define the process.
Assuming part of the reason for going into a corporate/charity relationship is – in part - publicity, thought should be given as to how it is to be communicated externally and internally within both of the organisations. It is advisable for a communications plan to be written at an early stage that gives the necessary amount of information to the necessary amount of people. Both sets of employees should be informed about the relationship and nature of the partnership.
In the plan, the messages ought to be agreed by all concerned and adhered to. It is good practice for it to be clear what both the company and the charity do independently and what they are trying to achieve together. Communications to the public and customers should always include the aims of the partnership and what the relationship is about. It is important that each party respects the other's branding guidelines, and that both parties agree the final procedure for press releases and media liaison, being aware of each other's needs and timescales.
It is important that a charity is driven by some kind of mission. This will help define what its aims are as an organisation. It will also help establish the right kinds of companies to be associated with. When selecting a company a charity should establish that there are no conflicts of interest.
Good partnerships often result from common interests and agendas. It can be a fine line between common interest and conflict of interest. The kinds of conflicts that can arise and that may affect a relationship are where:
Using a clear process of risk assessment, it is advisable for a charity to identify at an early stage the element of risk involved in any activity. Working with a company brings with it many benefits but there is almost certainly an element of risk. Research will unearth issues that could adversely affect the charity and action can then be taken at an early stage to negate any risk.
Within a business/charity relationship, like any other, there are both legal and moral obligations. Where the law does cover the position, the issues are clear cut (i.e. the need for a commercial participator agreement where financial gain is evident for the corporate), but clarity may be required where the law does not cover the position. In setting up an association with a company it is still necessary to make clear certain issues at the outset and their implications, for example:
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