Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Patience is the essential ingredient in partnerships

It's crucial to take time when nurturing a successful relationship between a charity and a corporation, writes Anita Pati.

Partnerships need patience, transparency and hard graft if they are to thrive: this was the message from Third Sector's CSR conference last month.

For Robert Napier, chief executive of WWF UK, patience is king when it comes to nurturing corporates.

He outlined the "complex partnership" with HSBC that bore fruit only after a 20-month period of "sizing each other up" built sufficient trust on both sides and HSBC delivered its £13m investment.

Trust could be scarce, he said, when so many members of a charity's staff were often ideologically driven and "deeply cynical of corporates".

"Unless we engage with companies, we're not going to achieve our mission," he said.

Napier advised charities to seek out potential conflicts of interest from the start, manage expectations and keep partners up to date on progress as the relationship develops.

The ethical problems posed by potential CSR relationships was a recurring theme. Edward Hodgkins, head of corporate fundraising at Macmillan Cancer Relief, said it had to consider carefully whether to work with a mobile phone distributor, given reports of possible links between mobile phones and cancer.

Napier said WWF would not take money from the oil sector. The RNID accepts no cash from hearing aid manufacturers and the RSPCA will not take donations from manufacturers of pet foods and vaccines.

However, Joe Korner, head of communications at the Stroke Association, said that many charities were wary of pharmaceutical company partnerships, but his charity welcomed them because it had clear ethical guidelines.

Korner said it was important that charities could demonstrate their independence.

This was shown earlier this year when the Stroke Association called for clear warnings for patients and GPs about the possible link between painkillers and strokes.

John Low, chief executive of the RNID, said the public could become suspicious if there was an obvious "lack of synergy" or commonality between a charity and its business partners.

Charlotte Drain, community investment manager at Microsoft, said: "One-off donations are a thing of the past. Companies are trying to make things more strategic by aligning the charity with the core business."

She also advised charities to research potential partners fully. Microsoft received 300 proposals a month, she said, so it was important that they should be focused and brief.

anita.pati@haynet.com

KEY POINTS

- CSR partnerships need patience, transparency and hard work to thrive, according to speakers at Third Sector's CSR conference last month

- A long preparatory period may be needed before any money changes hands

- Gifts in kind can throw up their own dilemmas when companies dictate terms and conditions

- Many speakers mentioned the ethical dilemma of accepting gifts from companies whose aims conflict with those of the charity

- Philanthropic, one-off donations are a thing of the past, with companies seeking continuous relationships.

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