“The charity was happy to take our money but we heard not another thing.  It was like they took the money and that was it.”

“The company only wanted to give us support because it made them look good.”

Sadly, the above comments are something I hear all too often.  What it boils down to is that neither the business nor the charity are thinking about at their relationship or the potential mutual benefits.  In fact, the examples above illustrate there is no relationship between the two parties.

What I’m going to explore in this article:

  • How businesses and charities can develop great relationships to mutual advantage;
  • Ways in which businesses can support charities – it’s not all about giving money;
  • Where to find guidance;
  • How charities and businesses can align their relationships to their values and mission;
  • Ideas to help a business choose a charity of the year.

Let’s talk about building great relationships

Effective fundraising is all about creating positive, trusting relationships between the fundraiser and the donor.  A donation to a charity is an opportunity for the fundraiser and donor to talk, and this means real talking – picking up the ‘phone and having a conversation – not an email or text exchange.  The conversation needs to move to exploring “are there opportunities for us both?”  The opportunities can be great.  It can start by making the “thank you” count.  If the charity gives certificates as a thank you, even better, you can talk about whether someone from the charity can visit and give the certificate to members of the team.  Take a photo and be creative – don’t have the “standing in a line with a cheque” photo that no one looks at.  Make the photo a talking point that can go on the company intranet and the charity’s supporter gallery and on the website and newsletter.  Could the photo be used in the local paper?  Use social media – to mutual benefit.  This is an opportunity for both the charity and the business to increase their reach and potential supporters.  And, it’s a real story with some good content.  You can talk about the charity, how the business raised the money, get some quotes from the business and someone from the charity who can talk about how the money will be used.  Even better, see if someone who actually benefits from the charity’s work will give a quote.  For most charities this opportunity gives added value to a donation.

Once you have a relationship that works, you both can explore working together further.  Whether it’s promoting each other’s events, creating new supporters or enrolling people to join in with organised sponsored events, the opportunities are limitless.  I’m often asked whether a charity should get involved with a business if the amount donated is considered small.  My reply – “from little acorns do mighty oaks grow”.  Relationships need to be nurtured and take time.  Talking, thanking, appreciating and understanding the others’ point of view are key and can bring great networking opportunities, as long as both sides are prepared to invest time.

Ways you can support charities

Not every company can afford to give a financial donation.  That’s fine, there are loads of ways you can add value to a charity.  Here are some ideas:

  • Donate time, knowledge or experience. I’ve seen charities receive free legal advice, free help from a web designer to deliver a new charity website, an accountancy company administer a charity’s monthly payroll and another undertake the end of year financial audit free of charge.   Another charity received two days per month pro bono support from an experienced communications consultant.  One company negotiated with all its suppliers that its chosen charity of the year could benefit from the same purchasing discounts which it had negotiated.  The charity gained even more when the suppliers started to sign up for the charity’s sponsored events!  Years ago I was invited to join a company’s senior executive team media training day.  I learned so much that day and the quality of the training was far greater than anything the charity could have afforded.  It stood me in good stead for the rest of my career and allowed me to talk about the charity to key decision makers!
  • Give access to a resource – access to space for meetings, or office space can be invaluable.

It’s important that charities acknowledge pro bono support and include the company’s name in any list of supporters (with agreement).  All the ideas given previously about publicity are relevant here.  In the charity’s annual accounts there is an opportunity to monetise the value of pro bono support.  Charities should take up this opportunity to demonstrate the value of pro bono business and show their appreciation.

  • Give a charity the opportunity to approach staff and set up a payroll giving scheme.
  • Ask an influential person to be an ambassador for your charity – they can like and share social media posts and give you access to LinkedIn contacts, for example. Before you do so, both should think about the pros and cons of this relationship and undertake due diligence.
  • Donate unsold stock – we’re seeing many more food stores linking up with food banks and other charities to distribute unsold stock to really worthwhile causes. Surplus stock can also make great raffle prizes or be bundled into goody bags for the charity’s beneficiaries.
  •  Encourage staff to volunteer for a charity. This can be a great opportunity to enrich an employee’s job as well as increase employee engagement.

Where to go to find guidance

I’ve seen criticism of a business on the basis of a charity’s brand being used to enhance the company with little perceived benefit for the charity.  The Institute of Fundraising gives charities clear guidelines as to best practice in corporate giving.  It’s a great starting point when exploring partnership opportunities and to make sure you get it right.   When a partnership works well and is open and transparent, it’s a win-win relationship.

A charity should be registered with the Fundraising Regulator, the independent regulator of charitable fundraising.  Registration indicates that the charity is signed up to the Regulator’s vision of  a world in which fundraising is ethical and giving is sustainable; where donors and fundraisers have mutual respect for each other and is also signed up to its mission – to enhance and sustain public confidence in charitable fundraising.

Aligning your charity/business relationships and your values and strategy

Establishing a great corporate partnership can be invaluable.  Whether the reward for a charity is financial, pro bono or a combination of both, aligning with a local or well-known brand can give a charity fabulous profile exposure.  For a company it can add to the company’s societal and public value.

A strong relationship with a charity can make a real difference to a company’s employee engagement where happier, more motivated staff who are aligned with the company’s goals and values often leads to greater productivity.   This is especially so if employees are involved in the nomination, selection and fundraising of a charity.  Involving staff in choosing and developing their own fundraising activities can stimulate creativity and team working with ideas coming from the most unlikely quarters!

Sometimes a charity is chosen because it’s close to an owner’s heart or there is some sort of connection.  But if not, then it’s worth thinking about your company values and mission and looking at lining this up with those of a charity.  For example, if your company makes children’s toys it may makes sense to think of supporting a children’s charity.  If a corporate value is to support local suppliers, then why not think about supporting a local charity rather than a high profile national charity?  It’s worth thinking about what you want to achieve by supporting a charity.  Are you wanting to give a small charity a hand to become larger and increase the reach of its work?  Or, maybe you want to give grass roots support?  If you’re wanting help in developing your corporate giving then contact me at SynergiesClick here to send me an email.

It’s well worth while for both the charity and the company to carry out research on each other – due diligence.  This should prevent unwanted surprises further down the line.

Many companies now consider their responsibilities to society, the public, the environment, the economy and the impact of its work.  This is often where businesses start to think about their Corporate Social Responsibility Policy.  There’s a lot of guidance on the web about setting up a policy and it can often start from a simple identification of which type of charity a company will support to becoming a full scale document looking at every aspect of a company’s impact on society.

Ideas to help a business choose a charity of the year

Many companies are approached throughout the year by charities asking for their support.  Some will develop a charitable giving policy to help them identify those they will support.  Others will decide to limit support to one or a limited number of charities.  Over the years I’ve come across various ways in which companies choose their charity of the year:

  • The boss or senior management decide;
  • Employees nominate charities close to their heart and the boss or senior management decide;
  • The HR team manage the charity of the year process;
  • Employees nominate a charity and there’s a staff vote to choose a charity of the year;
  • The company has a staff charity committee which runs the full nomination and selection process as well as the management of the charity relationship.

There’s no one that’s better than another, it’ll be down to what suits your company.

And finally ………….

There are moments when the heart of a charity fundraiser heart sinks, when they realise a company’s offering isn’t viable:

We want to offer staff the chance to volunteer their time to do gardening, painting and fixing things at your centre.”  This was offered to a charity without a centre and provided emotional support to families with an ill child all over the UK.

We want staff to take young people on an outing in two weeks’ time.”  The issues surrounding safeguarding makes this offer potentially very challenging to deliver.

We want to donate soft and used toys to children in a hospitable.”  Normally, neither are accepted by children’s hospitals.

Similarly, I’ve encountered times when a charity has not valued a company’s offering.  It can be as basic as not saying “thank you” to staff who are giving their time to not having a proper briefing as to what they are needed to do or are not made to feel part of the team.   This is simply not good enough.

This all comes back to the start of this blog.  It’s important to establish a relationship where both parties can talk openly about what each other needs.  It may be that the charity cannot accept, with regret, what a company is offering.  It’s important to remember it’s not personal, it’s a pragmatic decision for the benefit of both parties.

If you would like to talk about how to develop your corporate support, please contact Catherine Arkley, Synergies.  Click here to send an email to Catherine or call her on 07831 846760.

Catherine Arkley