Dean Russell: Charities need to be more creative when asking businesses for support

Many are missing out on valuable partnerships, says the head of digital marketing at Precedent Communications

We are all struggling in the current economic climate - charities, businesses and the public.

But instead of collaborating, working together and creating a stronger sense of community, I fear many organisations are putting their heads down and suffering in silence. Such isolationism, especially in this digital age, could lead to lost opportunities for both charities and businesses.

One of the challenges for charities will be to focus on what they need. For most people outside the sector, supporting a charity involves one of two things: giving money, either directly or by fundraising; and volunteering, or campaigning to help a charity reach its goals.

But what many charities really lack is the opportunity to share skills across the third and commercial sectors. With businesses becoming more open to helping charities learn about organisational efficiency and how to promote themselves more effectively, there is no reason why this should be the case.

From a communications perspective, many small charities fail to get the right support from government or business when it comes to marketing. Many small businesses have access to huge amounts of free resources and guidance on marketing from government organisations such as Business Link, but charities have to struggle with little state support, relying mainly on other charities such as the Media Trust to provide training and guidance.

So surely it is only fair that businesses, which often put marketing at the centre of their activities, should be more proactive in sharing their experience and skills with charities. Charities should also be far more vocal in asking for such support.

Of course, many larger charities have long been able to take advantage of corporate sponsorship and partnerships. But I have no doubt that many small charities wanting to start partnerships wouldn't even know where to begin, never mind find the resources to make it happen.

This is a shame, because so many small businesses could provide charities with support and skills-sharing opportunities without the burden of direct financial input.

Charities must proactively change the way their requests are perceived by the business world. By explaining to businesses that they can help them in return, they will discover greater opportunities to learn the skills they need to survive in these difficult times; and who knows, businesses might also learn something about the benefits of being in a community.

FACT FILE: Small businesses

There are about three million small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Research by Barclays published in November last year showed that more than half of small businesses in the UK were continuing to support charities, despite the recession.

Forty-two per cent of the 1,000 respondents said they felt they had a responsibility to their local area and should contribute where they could.

In September last year, the Media Trust's report The Marketing and Communications Needs of Charities revealed that only 29 per cent of small charities had annual marketing budgets.

Fifty-nine per cent of respondents said that if they were to access external help with communications, they would want the organisation concerned to have third sector experience.

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