Opinion: Hot issue - Are charity of the year deals sufficiently long?

At Third Sector's recent conference Aligning Corporate and Voluntary Objectives, some speakers suggested that charity of the year partnerships were too time-consuming for the benefit derived and should be longer.

NO - CLARE BRINE, COMMUNITY RELATIONS MANAGER, DIXONS

Taking the phrase 'charity of the year' literally, I would say no, because an enormous amount of preparation and buy-in from both parties is required to make a partnership work. Our partnerships are always a minimum of 18 months.

A successful partnership depends on the sophistication of company and charity structures and the resources available to make administration smooth. DSG International has more than 1,000 stores in the UK - it can be a challenge to communicate charitable messages to them when they receive so many commercial messages every day.

It is also difficult to see reputational benefits in charity partnership in a short space of time. We are planning to change our community investment programme next year to address this.

Having said that, there is still a place for well-organised and committed charity of the year relationships, particularly to address the challenge of keeping employees fundraising for a cause they may or may not be switched on to.Smaller charities with little brand awareness can use the experience to build a strong case to leverage other corporate support.

It is important that companies are respectful of charities' resources and do not expect the earth for a minimum return.

NO - WENDY DANIELL, COMPANY FUNDRAISING EXECUTIVE, NCH

A charity of the year partnership provides a vital source of income and support. In addition, it helps to raise awareness of the charity's key areas of work.

If a charity goes for the right company as a partner, a well-planned one-year partnership can quickly be beneficial and will undoubtedly meet the needs of both the charity and the company without the time spent outweighing the benefit derived. However, many partnerships now run for 18 months, or a partnership is renewed for a second consecutive year, because it is recognised that the impact on the charity's work is greater.

Over time, the partnership will strengthen and become more effective in terms of meeting the company's core business objectives and the beneficiaries' needs. As the relationship extends, the partnership can only become more successful.

NO - CHARLOTTE DRAIN, COMMUNITY INVESTMENT MANAGER, MICROSOFT

At Microsoft we've opted for longer-term partnerships, rather than a 'charity of the year' approach, because of the extra benefits a deeper relationship affords, both for ourselves and our partners.

If the relationship is to be a 'partnership' rather than just resourcing, it is vital the organisations take time to understand each other, plan together and develop a strategic relationship.

A great example of this is the work we've done with Leonard Cheshire and Age Concern on digital inclusion. In the years we've been working with these partners, we've been able to work together to understand this issue and develop policy.

As a result, we've established projects together such as 'Workability' and 'Discover IT', through which we work with Leonard Cheshire to provide IT resources and training to help provide disabled people with work and life skills.

Because our relationships are long-term, Microsoft employees have had time to understand our partnerships and see the impact of the work we are doing together, which ensures that the whole organisation can get behind them.

YES - TIM BISHOP, PARTNERSHIPS MANAGER, BUSINESS IN THE COMMUNITY

For larger organisations in particular, you could argue that 12 months is simply not long enough to forge trust and understanding between two parties. And even if it were possible, if the chosen charity is based on the whim of a company CEO, then it is unlikely that all employees will enthuse about this choice, whether it is for 12 months or longer.

Part of the debate here should be about how the company goes about selecting a charity in the first place, and part should be about what each organisation expects to achieve from the deal. However, this doesn't change the fact that the real value of many schemes is that a year can be a sufficient amount of time to provide a platform for longer-term engagement.

Trace back the origins of many successful and long-term corporate-charity partnerships, and you will find they grew out of 'charity of the year' beginnings. A year offers the opportunity for organisations to be innovative and engage their stakeholders across the board with passion, as well as through the use of different mechanics, such as CRM, gifts in kind or volunteering.

In short, when done well, a charity of the year deal can provide a very strategic start to a mutually beneficial and, hopefully, longer-term partnership.

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