THINKPIECE: Give corporate partnerships time to develop

MARIE STAUNTON, who worked on corporate partnerships as director of Plan UK, deputy director of UNICEF UK, director of Amnesty and a director of FT Law & Tax

Heads of fundraising who are thinking of plugging the hole in their budget with corporate funds, based on the recent Business in the Community report and guidelines from the Institute of Fundraising, should remember that a good partnership takes at least two years to develop.

Just over two years ago, GlaxoSmithKline approached international children's charity Plan with an offer to help create health education materials for children in developing countries. The personal hygiene and sanitation education campaign, also known as "Clean Hands, Happy Hands

was to follow a model piloted in Kenya with Amref.

As a charity with responsibilities to children and communities, Plan did due diligence before a clear agreement was drawn up - that was the easy part.

But if the relationship was to be sustainable, everyone involved needed to buy into the programme. The charity first consulted with the teachers and children in Peru and Nicaragua where the materials would be used.

The materials were then rewritten, tested and translated into local languages.

At the same time, GlaxoSmithKline's community relations department supported its local staff in taking ownership of the project. Management in Peru attended workshops with Plan staff.

There were barriers to the partnership. Some development workers were averse to corporate involvement and had to be convinced of the benefits and some local company staff saw the project as a diversion from their main work. However, these problems were overcome by face-to-face meetings and frank exchanges.

Two years down the line, meetings of key Plan and company staff with other charities and local government have paid off. The project is well-rooted, sustainable and most importantly saves children's lives. This month the programme received a Business in the Community Award.

Well-planned and carefully executed corporate partnerships do work, but they take time. So the next time a marketing agency rings your charity on behalf of a corporate making a pitch, remember it is not winning the pitch that matters as much as building a sustainable relationship.

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