Four ways to boost the impact of a business-charity partnership

The best corporate collaborations deliver clearly outlined social and commercial goals, says Tom Pitchon

Tom Pitchon
Tom Pitchon

The line between the non-profit and private sectors is softening. Twenty-first century charities justify social return on investment, market themselves and build brands in an increasingly competitive arena.

Businesses now account for social and environmental impact, attract ‘generation Y’ graduates seeking moral fulfilment at work and align brands to attract ethical consumers. The result? Huge opportunities for mutual sharing of assets across sectors.

In fact, although funding obviously matters, the best business and charity collaborations transcend this. We need a new approach to this area that ruptures the ‘giver/receiver’ dynamic by delivering clearly outlined social and commercial goals. Here are four things you can do to build smart business and charity partnerships: 

1. Ask not only what businesses can do for charities but what charities can do for businesses Take Sony. The company has partnered with a global charity called Streetfootballworld to deliver a graduate training programme that gets new recruits putting business skills into practice with social enterprises.

The programme channels needed expertise into local communities while boosting graduate leadership skills and delivering the highest graduate-retention rate in Sony’s history.

Another case in point is the Red Cross-Land Rover partnership, which included a 2012 sponsored drive from Birmingham to Beijing with celebrity explorer Bear Grylls. The drive raised significant funds for the Red Cross while providing brilliant product positioning for Land Rover by showing its car performing in the world’s toughest terrains.

Non-profits create social impact. Businesses generate profits. The best collaborations show a clear understanding of the social and commercial impact that can be generated by working together.

2. Move beyond cash Yes, money matters – but don’t stop there. Try to get a business working actively with you, rather than just paying you to deliver. Think about its products, expertise, communications platforms, networks and intellectual property. This makes sense for two reasons. First, businesses have more to offer than money, and tapping this wider pool of assets can boost social impact. Second, the more departments you engage, the greater the ripple effect and buy-in will be across the company.

3. Get creative The more innovative your collaboration is, the more likely it is to stand out and last. For example, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation delivered a programme for a major telephone company in 2010, which involved customers nominating local community heroes through SMS, with the winners flying to South Africa for a 10-day volunteering programme with inspiring community sports programmes in amazing locations.

Our grant recipients harnessed the skills and resourcefulness of the volunteers, who were true local heroes with real skills to share. This created content for a Facebook video (made by the telephone company) that provided great positioning in the year of the football World Cup in South Africa and won an industry marketing award. Getting a business innovating with you is a brilliant way to boost the collaboration’s impact and sustainability.

4. Find a snug fit Target businesses that are aligned with your values and cause. This sounds obvious, but doesn’t always happen. The synergy could come from a set of corporate values (for example, Google’s promise to "do no evil" could fit with charities seeking to prevent human rights abuses), from a company’s capabilities (Amazon’s distribution networks supporting a disaster relief effort) or from a natural brand alignment (Nike partnering with a charity combatting sedentary living, for example). You get the gist. Where synergy comes from doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it’s powerful and clearly articulated.

We need a new approach to business-charity collaboration that shows how social impact can be used for commercial gain in a way nobody needs to feel awkward about. Commercial gain can be illegitimate (greenwashing, for example) or legitimate. Charities that can help businesses make money legitimately by resourcing their social missions will better position themselves for an era in which traditional grant funding is receding and the divides between the sectors are softening. 

Tom Pitchon is head of programmes at Laureus Sport for Good Foundation

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