Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Vodafone makes plans for the end of partnerships

Anita Pati, anita.pati@haynet.com

The Vodafone UK Foundation has created a strategy to prevent any fallout when a CSR partnership finishes.

The Vodafone UK Foundation has devised an exit strategy for its corporate partnerships in a bid to boost their sustainability and avoid leaving charities in the lurch once relationships end.

Its current three-year partnership with Shelter, Samaritans and YouthNet will finish in April 2007, but the team has been consulting already to ensure there is no fallout when the parties split.

Vodafone, whose projects aim to help socially excluded 16 to 25-year-olds access information and technology, spreads a total of £6m across the charities over three years, until April 2007.

Shelter's supported project is an online housing advice service, Know Your Rights. Samaritans is extending and promoting its email service, Jo@Samaritans.org, to reach more young people; YouthNet uses the funding to run its online service askTheSite, giving young people faster confidential access to information.

However, a condition of entering the partnership was that each applicant had to prove it would not become dependent on the funder.

To this end, before the sponsorship began, Vodafone spent eight months working with the partners with the help of a CSR consultancy. It gave them each £10,000 to pitch their projects, including proof of how they would develop them afterwards.

"They had to prove at the outset whether their projects were sustainable," says Sarah Shillito, head of The Vodafone UK Foundation. "There is always the lurking question 'is it over after three years?'"

Now, a year before the partnership is due to end, Vodafone has started working on its own exit strategy. This will consist of a one-off donation of £1m shared between the partners in the fourth year (2007/08), including potential support for any other strategic charity partners that Shelter, Samaritans and YouthNet rely on to deliver their work.

The charities are also required to measure and evaluate the impact of the partnership, using London Benchmarking Group criteria. This, says Shillito, is increasingly expected within such cross-sector partnerships.

Vodafone plans to publish a report of its experiences after the fourth year, covering topics such as 'expectations versus reality', pitfalls and shared learning.

Suki Dale, senior corporate fundraiser at Samaritans, said: "This is a fantastic help to us." The money would help support Samaritans' evaluation agenda to measure the wider impact of its support services on suicide and self-harm, she said, adding: "The exit strategy is not prescriptive, but provides guidance."

Shillito added: "We wanted to make sure the process left a legacy behind."

FACT FILE

The Vodafone UK Foundation has devised an exit strategy a year before its partnership with Shelter, Samaritans and YouthNet ends to ensure partners are supported for an extra year.

Vodafone currently spreads a total of £6m in funding across the charities' information and technology projects.

Partners were given £10,000 each before the partnership commenced to work out their projects' sustainability.

Vodafone will publish a report once the partnership has ended.

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