Charities 'should tell companies clearly what they want'

Nick Connolly of the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint tells a YouthNet panel that corporate partnerships are now a major income stream

Nick Connolly

Charities should be as "boisterous" as their corporate partners to get what they need from charity of the year relationships, voluntary sector representatives were told yesterday.  

Nick Connolly, head of corporate development at the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, was speaking as part of a panel discussion about the changing nature of charity of the year partnerships at an event in London organised by the digital charity for young people YouthNet.  

When Centrepoint lost a large proportion of its funding in 2008/09 because of the downturn, corporate support filled the vast majority of the gap, said Connolly.

He said some at the charity had assumed that companies would not want to support "hoodies", but corporate partnerships are now a major income stream.

"It is about how you talk about your cause," he said. "Be strong about the things you want and say: ‘It is brilliant you want to do volunteering, but we need money.'

"It is about fundraising entrepreneurship – partnerships might not start out the way you want, but you should make sure they become the ones you want.

"Big companies know what they want and they are good at getting it. You need to be equally boisterous. It’s not about fighting – most of the people you talk to understand the charity’s needs and wants, but not always."

Connolly said one of the charity’s first big public-facing relationships was with Arsenal Football Club. Centrepoint’s logo was all over the club’s stadium and website, which left the charity and its young beneficiaries feeling exposed, he said.

"It was quite risky for us and them," he said. "Everyone had an opinion. Arsenal’s last charity partner was Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, so initially with us the fans were saying ‘why are they supporting a bunch of hoodies?’ People can be harsh."

But now the partnership is over, he said, he still meets Arsenal fans who remember it and ask about the charity.

Alison Gardner, head of corporate responsibility at the credit card company Capital One and part of the panel discussion, said the company never entered into charity of the year partnerships in the traditional sense, but worked with several charities in different ways. 

Capital One is in a four-year partnership with YouthNet, which is aiming to increase the number of young people accessing its site from one million to two million.

The company has funded research by the charity into how young people use digital technology. It believes the research will help it develop products iwhen the next generation accesses financial services.

"What we are trying to do is create more mutually beneficial partnerships rather than a one-way flow of philanthropy," said Gardner.

"There is a huge amount of skills swapping – it is a cultural exchange. We think there is an awful lot that both partners can learn from each other."

Jemma Guerrier, deputy development director at YouthNet, said the charity had previously written off charity of the year partnerships, believing it was too small and its cause was not emotive enough to compete and win employee votes.

But by developing the charity’s "core mission and values as an organisation", it won joint partner of the Virgin London Marathon 2013 with Age UK.

The charity’s runners raised £700,000, and it is working on a new project with Virgin to bring together young people and digital technology.

"I don’t think there is a charity of the year model that fits all," said Guerrier. "We thought we were too small and did not have the resources or emotive pull.

"I think that with alignment of core values and business strategies, good relationships will form and income generation will follow."

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