How to ... Improve the way you pitch to the corporates

Corporate partnerships can be extremely advantageous to both charities and businesses.

Companies can provide vital funding through strong branding and good PR and marketing, and they can provide hours of voluntary work and help boost awareness of the charity. However, a successful corporate relationship depends a lot on the preparation put into setting up the partnership in the first instance. So how can you make sure you get it right?

1Know your own brand before choosing a company It is important that those selecting a corporate partner understand their own charity's mission and capabilities. "That has to be the foundation to your new business approach," says Ben Welch, new business manager at Macmillan Cancer Care. "You have to understand what your charity can deliver to the corporate world, because the days when companies just gave money to a nice fluffy charity are long gone. Now they look for one that can enhance key areas of their work, such as employee-engagement programmes."

2Research companies thoroughly Charities should thoroughly assess the company to establish whether or not it would be likely to support the organisation. Questions should be asked about the firm's structure and financial stability, its motives for joining a corporate partnership and its history of charitable giving. Beth Courtier, head of BT's charity programme, says that in such a competitive market the charities that have done their research before she meets them make a far better impression. "Charities shouldn't assume that a company has done no fundraising before," she says. "There is nothing more patronising than being told what we need to be doing as if we have no idea."

Other questions to consider might be the ethics of the company and the public's perception of its image. The Institute of Fundraising's code of practice Charities Working with Business includes a wealth of questions that should be considered at the research stage.

3Prepare your pitch Courtier says she expects charities to show innovative ideas and demonstrate what they can offer BT and its staff. "They need to be much more creative and move away from this standard pitch we see from a lot of charities, where they say only who they are and what they want," she says. "Their pitch should show preparation and thought, and they need to tailor it to the business. It's no longer enough to rehash a standard presentation."

4Organise a meeting Welch doesn't believe presentations are always the best way to win a corporate partner. "There is no set formula, but you should try to avoid presentations and engage in conversations," he says. "A lot of charities fall into the trap of presenting at people, but it's better to talk to people and find out what is important to them."

As the sector becomes increasingly competitive, companies and charities are seeking new ways to engage partnerships. Rising numbers of companies are approaching charities rather than the other way around and some charities - such as Contact the Elderly - are inviting businesses to bid to become their company of the year. "It's a great opportunity for charities to get involved with big companies, but the way we do it, we don't have to compromise what we do," says Marie Holdt, communications manager at Contact the Elderly. "We feel we are engaging people from our partners with the community, but on our terms."

5Take steps to continue the relationship Honesty and flexibility are essential to maintaining and developing a corporate partnership, especially in such a volatile economic climate, according to Alex Speke, corporate partnerships manager at Richard House Children's Hospice in London. "The initial agreements should be conducted in an open fashion," he says. "This way both parties are clear on what they want to achieve and can evaluate this regularly."

An agreement must be drawn up to include a communication, PR and events plan to govern the relationship, according to Speke. This will ensure the partnership gets off on the right footing, he says, particularly if this includes an event to kick off the partnership. "A launch event involving senior members of staff and which uses the company's communication channels can effectively inspire and motivate employees, while generating valuable press coverage." Speke also believes a flexible approach - rather than sticking rigidly to something that might not work out - helps to ensure solutions can be reached quickly if things go wrong.

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