WHAT IS THE PERFECT CSR PARTNERSHIP?
MOVING AWAY FROM “CHARITY OF THE YEAR” – THE IDEAL BUSINESS MODEL
Why are charities consciously moving away from “Charity of the Year partnerships” when these have been the basis of most corporate partnerships historically? It seems the move is being driven from both sides of the equation and for good reason.
Not-for-profit organisations are looking for more than tactical CSR tick-box relationships and research suggests one-off corporate/charity arrangements are fading away in preference for more strategic and longer term alliances. The Return on Investment for partnerships which only last a year, is relatively small for both parties. For charities they bring a potentially onerous level fund–raising support, development of relationships, and administration – and the higher the level of financial investment, the more significant the expectations can be, in terms of bespoke support, merchandise, or event planning. From the corporate side, the decision about both the type of charity and financial investment to be made, is often made at board level, meaning that the ownership and engagement around the programme amongst employees is limited, and when taken to the extreme, the CSR initiatives can be seen as unpaid work which employees are expected to attend, have no accountability for, and may even resent.
CREATING AUTHENTIC PARTNERSHIPS
In addition to the “Charity of the Year” business model being ineffective, businesses are increasingly driven to demonstrate authenticity in their CSR work. Corporates have historically been accused of “white knight syndrome”, or entering into charity partnerships with a patronizing or self-congratulatory tone, and employees are very wary of this.
Thankfully now, as the CSR movement builds, there is competition between businesses to find and work with charities which are truly aligned with their commercial strategy, brand and people. As charities, by default start to have more choices in who they work with and how, the power balance is shifting, and charities are increasingly finding more imaginative and inclusive ways to work with corporates whom they believe have their social purpose at heart.
Those businesses who fit into this “authentic” category are more aware of ensuring their involvement does not detract from the charity’ s purpose. Managing partnerships, and quantifying the social impact of each initiative is hard for both parties if the relationship is a tactical add-on to their commercial or people strategy, as opposed to a strategic initiative at the core of the organisation. Corporate leaders face a balancing act between employee-driven pressure to deliver on more than “just” profit through exciting, all-inclusive initiatives; and being mindful of the charities resource constraints to support these initiatives . Charities need to ensure their corporate partnership strategy appeals at a strategic level to the financial decision makers, those who will engage and galvanise the workforce, and the employees .If the charity only focuses on the corporate financial decision makers, the success may be limited.
CREATING SHARED VALUE
Partnerships need to be mutually beneficial with an equal balance of power to facilitate longevity. The charity must have the confidence to resist distraction in order to solely chase down corporate investment, and businesses will be reassured by their focus and honesty. Equally however, charities need to be open to the views and observations of corporates who have become involved. They may have a clearer view on how corporate partners want to interact with the charity, and how that might morph over time. A one-size fits all policy around partnerships may be limiting for both parties, and more importantly for the social cause at its heart.
MAKING IT WORK
Success in terms of social impact created by a charity/ corporate partnership will come through well managed financial contributions and on a practical basis, where there is synergy between the skill sets, culture and people.. To be of value, anything offered by the business, product, pro-bono work or volunteering, needs to meet the needs and challenges the charity is facing. If it is not applicable to the charity’s business model, donating an army of volunteers does not serve the business model, or create authenticity or shared value.
SO, WHAT IS THE PERFECT PARTNERSHIP?
The perfect partnership brings together two like–minded organisations, with a shared social purpose, in a way which is core to both their strategies and makes best use of all of their joint assets. In other words, as with any partnership, there needs to be a sensible commercial framework, with the freedom to shape each partnership within those boundaries.
Having said that at the top of most charity’s ‘desirable’ list is unrestricted funding i.e. funding that is not restricted to a specific element of the charity’s service. In this financial climate, (and with most corporates wanting high visibility of the impact their specific donations are having) this is becoming more difficult for Financial Directors to sign off, and charities need to be cognizant of this and create other appealing ways of giving restricted funds. What charities fear most are volunteer programs, where the skills of the corporate employees are not aligned to what the business needs.
The world of CSR partnerships is changing and for the better. There are less Boards willing to just send a donation and sit back. If their desire to make a social impact is genuine they will want to hook their organization into the charity at several levels, and on both a practical and strategic level. The days of corporate partnerships being purely monetary are over, and both charities and corporates need to re-think the way they approach the future.