Business partner: Macmillan Cancer Support and Somerfield

The supermarket chain is ambitious in its backing of the cancer support charity.

The problem with many partnerships between charities and businesses, according to Jason Suckley, head of corporate partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support, is that they lack ambition.

"Charities need to raise expectations in the corporate sector about what can be achieved through charity partnerships," says Suckley. "We can add a significant amount to the brand. It's more than just product sales - it's about reinforcing corporates' brand values and their links to the local community.

"Too often, charities and corporate partners see this as being purely about staff motivation and employee fundraising. There is far more that can be done than that."

Suckley speaks from a position that others might well envy - working for one of the sector's most well-known and attractive corporate brands. But it's a philosophy that appears to be paying dividends. Macmillan's partnership with Somerfield has been in existence for little more than nine months, but it has already generated more than £1m. By its scheduled completion in December 2008, it is expected to have at least matched Macmillan's most lucrative partnership, which was with Tesco in 2000 and garnered £2.5m.

Suckley says Macmillan's strategy is based on the principle that partnerships are more sustainable if they provide mutual benefit. "To do that we have to provide business and commercial benefits to our corporate partners," he says.

For example, Macmillan wanted to support Somerfield's brand positioning as a "fresh food convenience retailer", so the charity devised a fundraising event: the Somerfield Big Picnic. It enabled the supermarket to hold sales promotions on picnic-related items, such as scotch eggs and fruit drinks. Sales rose and more than £100,000 was raised for Macmillan. The Big Picnic will be repeated this year in the hope of an even greater impact.

In the run-up to Macmillan's own 'World's Biggest Coffee Morning', the charity also encouraged its supporters to visit Somerfield stores and buy Fairtrade coffee and tea. More than 1,000 Somerfield customers held their own coffee mornings.

For Somerfield, Macmillan was an appropriate choice, given the supermarket's typical customer - older and on a lower-than-average income. Macmillan pitched for the partnership, then won a staff and customer vote against Marie Curie.

The supermarket says the partnership is not just about signing the largest cheque possible. "What is different about this partnership is that we are not just here to fundraise," says Pete Williams, head of charity and PR at Somerfield. "We set ourselves big targets. We are going to smash £2m, and could be nearer £2.5m. But at the same time, we want something our staff can commit to, and something our suppliers can support. They supply all the other supermarkets, but we want to stand apart."

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