Many charity-corporate partnerships are functional marriages of convenience in which one side gets to tick some corporate social responsibility boxes and the other raises a few pounds. Occasionally, however, a genuine enthusiasm is kindled.
This seems to be the case with the relationship between the Marine Conservation Society and the Turtle Mat Company, an Oxfordshire manufacturer of bath, door and other kinds of mats. "If truth be known, I'd probably rather be working full-time for them than for us," confesses Simon Brown, co-owner of Turtle Mat.
The partnership focuses on the conservation of turtles. Six out of seven turtle species are endangered, and the society has been appointed lead partner for turtle conservation as part of the Government's biodiversity action plan. Turtle Mat, originally founded by James Turtle, uses images of the reptiles in its marketing, so the partnership seemed a natural fit.
It emerged soon after Brown and business partner Mark Whitney bought the company. "I did a lot of research online about turtles and the problems they are having," recalls Brown. "Once you are informed you can't ignore it. So I tracked down the Marine Conservation Society and gave it a call."
The partnership involves fundraising and awareness campaigns. All Turtle Mat staff participate in the society's Adopt a Turtle programme, which raises money for projects worldwide. And regular mailings inform 60,000 of the company's customers about the society's work.
"A percentage of those people will contact the society themselves, which finds it difficult to get out to so many people," says Brown. There are also plans to create a special turtle-design mat to raise funds for the society.
According to Katherine Stephenson, fundraising coordinator at the society, smaller companies such as Turtle Mat are proving more willing corporate partners than larger, more well-known firms. "We are finding that small and medium-sized companies are far easier to approach and far more positive about what we do than large corporations," she says. "We've found it hard to get to speak to the right people in other companies."
Brown is certainly not demanding assurances about the business benefits of the partnership. "I'm sure there will be some benefits, but that was never the reason for doing it," he says. Instead, he seems more concerned about spreading the word about how mankind is killing turtles, sometimes inadvertently. For example, mass balloon releases threaten them because balloons drift out to sea and are mistaken by turtles for jellyfish. The turtles eat the balloons and die. "Turtles aren't dolphins," he says. "We want to raise awareness of creatures that are often overlooked."