Once More, With Meaning
Charity leaders often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. We need to be more business-like to maintain a sustainable cashflow, but we’re also under scrutiny to prove that our charity is a fundraising organisation. For many in the not-for-profit sector, ‘commercial’ is an uncomfortable term and, undoubtedly, the nature of corporate giving has become more complex.
Many well-established companies are taking more strategic and integrated approaches to CSR and are looking to build partnerships. As well as traditional sponsorship and brand investment, partnerships can involve everything from engagement with audiences, to driving business creativity and innovation processes, to social impact, to customer-employee engagement and recruitment, to investment in civil pride – the list is endless. Arts charities, in particular, have suffered recently from government budget cuts, and according to the Charities Aid Foundation UK Giving Report 2015, only one percent of donations in the UK went to the arts. It’s the least commonly supported cause, which is surprising, given how many people engage with the arts. A quarter of British adults (24 percent) have watched or participated in a production or arts programme run by a charity, in their lives, and almost two-thirds (64 percent) have visited a charity-run gallery, museum or stately home. Whilst the lack of support for arts charities is disappointing, given the volatility in economic conditions, it is important to recognise and celebrate those partnerships that have sustained, and also to look to the many new types of partnerships that are developing.
The successful charity/corporate partnerships have the following in common: Commercial activity is aligned with mission – if commercial activities compromise a charity’s mission, problems will inevitably arise. The issue around Age UK and E.on became a cautionary tale, and Age UK stepped away from the partnership, when press articles claimed that the charity was accepting £6m a year to promote a tariff for older people, which was not the cheapest on offer. The bottom line is that if the deal could damage the charity’s beneficiaries, then don’t do it. A charity’s mission and commercial activities must align with the corporate partner’s. Keep it simple; don’t overcomplicate things. Charities can be unclear about what they want and are not always able to articulate their strategy in a way that makes sense to a corporate partner. The synergy between the corporate and the charitable idea or concept needs to be obvious. Hasbro and the Autism Project achieved this well with its Toybox Tools Initiatives, to make play accessible for those with developmental disabilities.
Find a gap; the best charity fundraising seeks out a niche area of need, where there is benefit for all partners. The Trustee Leadership Programme, funded by Close Brothers AM and the Clothworkers’ Foundation, is an obvious example of this. The programme trains professionals to become charity Trustees. With 50 percent of charities having Trustee vacancies available currently, this is responding to a very real need for the charity sector at the same time as providing Board-level experience for ambitious, City professionals. Consider disruptive partnerships; disruptive philanthropy responds to a need by convening people and teams around ideas, to make things happen. The impact can be long-term or very immediate, large or small, and funded with cash or through in-kind support. The Telstra Foundation, from 2002 to 2012, invested $43m to more than 7,000 community projects across the themes of cybersafety, indigenous community development, health, wellbeing, and social innovation. By investing in youth-focused, not-for-profit organisations, the Foundation is keeping true to its ambition to think bigger, bolder and differently about what is possible for wide-scale, social change. Supporting charity boards – to generate the most effective corporate partnerships, the charity boards need to demonstrate commercial thinking. Charities require talented leadership from a diverse group, including those with corporate experience, if they want to increase commercial revenue streams, like many of the UK’s most successful charities, business acumen and insight can help as much as a financial donation. The UK charity sector needs to commercialise to flourish, and by partnering with the corporate world and creating new ways of working together, we can maximise CSR effectiveness for the long term.