Corporate partnership: Hitting the Bullseye

In the week of Third Sector's conference on building corporate partnerships, Ian Catley says you should nurture relationships carefully and 'act like a friend, not a pest'.

Many charities look longingly at the corporate partnerships enjoyed by others, often not daring to hope they too could be chosen. But they could. These days there is often a choice list, a process and a 'you have to be in it to win it' beauty contest. There is a huge, largely untapped opportunity for almost any charity to win the hearts and minds of corporate leaders and their workforces. The trick is to create the opportunity rather than wait to be asked.

Research your target

It is important to start by thoroughly researching your target company and the board director you wish to meet. The question is: will the partnership compromise your mission and message? To answer this you need to agree a policy with your trustees. If you are a cancer charity, for example, you might need to discuss whether it is all right to work with the employees of a cigarette company provided you decline any donation from the company itself.

Try to network with people who know the company board member you want to influence. Persuade your contact to ask for you to be offered 20 minutes of the board member's time, preferably at the office - then follow up to make the appointment.

Prepare a short presentation beforehand. Include between five and ten good fundraising ideas. Some people hate PowerPoint, so think 'simple' but 'quality'. I personally like a full-colour, hard copy presentation on A2. Make sure you produce some A4 colour copies or a CD-Rom of your presentation to leave behind. Your prospective partner could make the decision days, weeks or even months later, so memories need to be vivid.

You will need to brief another colleague so they are ready to go to the presentation meeting with you (or to stand in if you are delayed). Your networking contact may also wish to come along, but do not take an army.

Clinching the deal

Rehearsing the presentation beforehand will dramatically improve your delivery. Make sure you know where you are going and find out who you will be presenting to, as well as the size and environment of the room.

Be on site 30 minutes before your appointment and in reception 10 minutes before.

On the day itself, make sure you look the part - be businesslike. Be prepared to ask for a challenging financial goal over a realistic time-frame. Do not over-promise support you cannot deliver. If you can't deliver a celebrity, don't even half promise one. Remember, board members want the best for their companies - you can help them by being efficient, understanding the company's objectives and culture and by offering good quality service.

During the presentation, ask whether your proposals fit with what the company thinks it could deliver. Ask if it is possible to outline a programme there and then and set a target together - you may never have a captive audience of board members in one place again, so it is important to seal the deal on the day if it is practicable. To achieve this you must be confident - but don't be cocky.

Once you have agreed the partnership, outline the level of support and involvement that will be required, and agree who will be the 'charity champion' - the main co-ordinator for the relationship. A commercial participation agreement for any trading and to protect both your names is also wise.

Offer fundraising packs and practical support to your corporate partner's main offices early on. But don't bankrupt your charity just to please a new partner. You are a charity - they need to get used to making reasonable demands and no more. You must act in the same way.

Ask the company to put a director on your steering group. Within that group, ask for someone from each of the following departments: marketing, sales, admin, treasury, a branch or shop representative if the company has these, manufacturing and logistics. You will get some, but not all, and you may be better off with a smaller, really committed group.

Once your committee is in place, arrange a major planning meeting to set the agenda for the first 12 months. If you have the time, set this planning meeting for at least three months before the official launch of the relationship. Write to say thanks to the decision-maker, confirm the partnership arrangements and list the next steps.

Ongoing work

You should have regular meetings - one every month or three months with company co-ordinators and six-monthly with the director to appraise the partnership, ensure promises are kept and ascertain that money is coming in. You also need to offer fundraising support. This could include a helpline (although sometimes the company will provide this for you as part of the agreement), merchandise, sponsorship forms, gift aid support, encouragement and money chasing.

If you have not negotiated more than a one-year deal, ask for year two early - why stop now? If you have a multi-year deal, ensure you have review meetings in the diary, and don't let them slip.

Thank people properly. At big money milestones, surprise them with a framed certificate signed by your patron or chair, or a memento peculiar to your charity. Email them when you spot something that relates to their business. Be a friend, but not a pest. Invite key people to your AGM, carol concert or garden party. On the night, don't charge them the usual ticket price or ask for money - they are guests. Talk with them over a glass of something about other ideas.

Corporate fundraising is no different from any other relationship. If you don't work on it, breakdown is inevitable. Happily, the reverse is true if both sides work in real partnership, and multi-year company partnerships at £100,000 per year can lead to what we all want; sustainable income and partnerships of more than 10 years are not so rare.

Ian Catley is a corporate fundraising consultant and communications specialist. Email: ian@baldeaglecommunications.co.uk.

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