How the Alzheimer's Society attracted big businesses

The charity has had more success than most in winning fundraising partnerships with high-profile companies, writes Susannah Birkwood

Argos staff are among those to have raised money for the Alzheimer's Society
Argos staff are among those to have raised money for the Alzheimer's Society

Corporate partnerships, which have become a priority for many charities in recent years when other funding has been harder to get, have often provided skilled volunteers as well as financial help. Businesses are increasingly attracted to such alliances because of the positive impact on their reputations and benefits to the wider community.

The Alzheimer's Society has been particularly successful in this area and currently has 12 corporate partners, including household-name firms such as Deloitte, E.ON, Flight Centre, HSBC, John Lewis and PwC. Its business partners won four categories in Third Sector's recent Business Charity Awards.

The advantage of partnerships with such large well-known businesses is that they often raise significant sums of money: Lloyds Banking Group's partnership with the Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer Scotland raised £6.5m in 2013 and 2014, while Home Retail Group's partnership with those two charities and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland raised more than £2.8m in the two years to March.

The charity, which conducts research and provides care for people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, says working with its sister charities in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland makes it more attractive to companies that operate across the whole of the UK and Ireland.

So what is the trick to securing so many major partners? Paula Robinson, head of corporate partnerships at the charity, attributes its success in this area to the increased awareness of dementia among the public in recent years. She says that the charity's Dementia Friends programme – a government-funded initiative that provides awareness-raising sessions for people on how to support those with the condition – provided an entry point for several partnerships, which began with discussions about how the company might become more dementia-friendly.

She says that as well as being the catalyst for a number of partnerships, the Dementia Friends programme has been a good way for the charity to engage staff of the partner business with the cause: the charity recruits and train volunteers in the company who deliver 45-minute dementia-awareness sessions to their colleagues.

Robinson says the charity's efforts to cultivate its contacts in companies appear to have paid off, because most of its partnerships have emerged after it was shortlisted for a staff vote. "In terms of how we get on the shortlist, we work hard to keep in touch with companies to make sure we're up to date with how their existing partnerships are going," she says. "We phone their corporate social responsibility representatives or take them out for coffee, and keep them updated on any news and developments in our world."

Robinson says the charity increasingly finds that it is companies' marketing executives who take on the role of selecting or liaising with charities, so it also keeps in touch with them. Once the Alzheimer's Society has been shortlisted for a staff vote, it often wins it, says Robinson; she attributes this to the charity's efforts to create a compelling case. She says that in particularly complex partnerships – such as that with ITV's charity appeal Text Santa, which involved working with five other charities – the charity sets up a project team with representatives from different departments such as media, digital and regional fundraising. The team works to understand as much as possible about the firm and its staff, and the criteria the prospective charity partner needs to meet.

"We look at what the organisation's greatest needs are and how we can meet them, and we consider any pro-bono work that the company could do for us," she says.

Robinson says that when she started working on partnerships 12 years ago, pro-bono work was rarely mentioned by corporates, but now they are often keen to talk about it. However, in order to avoid being inundated with offers from companies of volunteers to do the gardening or paint the walls, Robinson says it is important to be honest about the kind of employee volunteering or skill-sharing that will be of use to the charity.

Bucket collections are one example of valuable support, she says. Six collections held over the past two years at UK branches of Argos and Homebase – subsidiaries of the Home Retail Group – raised more than £400,000 in total. Robinson says that although new fundraising ideas arise every year, most of the money raised through corporate partnerships still comes from traditional activities such as cake sales and sponsored marathons.

In May the charity, together with Alzheimer Scotland, announced a new one-year partnership with Celesio, the parent company of Lloyds Pharmacy. The Alzheimer's Society hopes the company will use its pharmaceutical network to raise the profile of dementia in local communities.

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