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Charity partnerships – time for a shake up?

These days a charity partnership is an established part of most companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility programme – and with good reason. There are real benefits to the business concerned: through feedback and communication which helps team building, to seeing the impact of real benefits to the chosen charity and the consequent boost to staff morale and positive PR.

With so many charities to choose from, many companies invite nominations and then have a staff vote, which is a great way of getting everyone involved and ensuring that people subsequently get behind their chosen charity. Having worked in the financial services industry for many years, I have seen the benefits this brings and have long been an advocate of this approach. Now I am involved in the charity sector, however, I can see that finding corporate partnerships presents real challenges for smaller and lesser known charities.

From the charity’s perspective, if they don’t have a high profile to begin with, they are far less likely to get the chance to compete and show their worth. But from a company point of view, it’s not an advantage to repeatedly choose the same well-known causes. There is a danger that momentum and enthusiasm can be lost, and staff may become unconvinced that they are making any real impact.

So, what’s the solution? Well there are various options. Companies can introduce a ‘wild card’ charity into each nomination process; or staff could be invited to vote for a theme (e.g. the environment or medical research) rather than a specific charity and, based on the results, qualifying charities could be invited to tender.

The benefits to businesses of introducing a new and maybe previously unknown charity are clear. Staff know they are supporting a cause which is often overlooked and have the satisfaction of making a big impact on a smaller charity where the results can be very tangible. One corporate partner of Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, a small Birmingham based charity that I am involved with (which nonetheless has a national mission without the profile and income of other ‘nationals’) is law firm, Mills & Reeve LLP who feel that supporting a smaller charities allows staff to develop a closer relationship with the cause concerned, as partner, Dawn Braithwaite explains:

“Choosing smaller charities gives us a chance to find organisations who are doing fantastic work but going under the radar as they don’t have large machinery to give them publicity.  It also expands the way in which we can support such charities with simple things such as offering meeting rooms or helping with fundraising activities.

By supporting Children’s Liver Disease Foundation this year, we have been able to get the attention and support of staff who had previously not heard of this charity and feel that they are engaging with a cause that really needed help.  Our team here feel that their efforts on whatever level are greatly appreciated and they are not simply one of thousands of companies helping to make a large charity even bigger.  It has also given us the opportunity to really think about how we can support CLDF and tailor our activities to achieve synergy with the charity.”

So, when your business is considering who should be its next charity of the year just pause for a moment. The answer may not be as obvious as you think.

Simon Colson is a trustee of Children’s Liver Disease Foundation.  

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