I spent a fascinating morning this week judging cause-related marketing awards for Business in the Community. There had been a substantial rise in the numbers of high-quality applications this year, and we had presentations on a number of partnerships in practice. But the partnerships were all so different that the process also raised some interesting debates about the interpretation of cause-related marketing and corporate social responsibility.
What was clear was that everyone had moved a long way from the traditional interpretation of the relationship being simply sponsorship. Just as funding patterns in the sector are moving in focus from donatory to investment-based, so CSR has become much more of a joint venture.
It's no longer just about the company selling its products - although that will always be part of the mix - but thinking about what win/win really means on a number of levels. Win/win is about common values, ways of working and acknowledging an all-round 'good fit'. It is also about strategic development. That means both sides of the partnership are engaged in managing public awareness and perceptions, are involved in exchanging staff and ideas, and concerned to measure impact and uphold ethics.
However, the new moves towards a holistic approach to CSR are sometimes overlooked by marketing departments fixated with grabbing the limelight for their product. Charities beware of these temptations! This might be helped to change if CSR posts were more widely advertised, and not just appointed from within the company. Even more radical, what about joint appointments with charities?
CRM should be an integral part of a CSR strategy and reflect the shared values and purpose of the cross-sector partnership. Each partner should learn from the other, with companies investing more in getting a social return on their contribution, and charities becoming more efficient and business-like.
What we are moving towards now is mutuality, and a respect shared by different sectors of their respective knowledge and skills. Sharing business acumen, understanding client needs and developing an entrepreneurial approach will stand both the voluntary and private sectors in good stead for a long time to come. Geraldine Peacock is a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner, but writes in a personal capacity.