Dawa Dem

Dawa Dem

Lead Advisory Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

How to attract corporate partners: top tips for small charities

At CAF, we often see small and medium-sized charities seeking advice on how to develop partnerships with a corporate, but it can be a challenging process: charities are often competing for the same partnerships and smaller charities have less capacity to attract bigger corporate organisations.

One of the most fundamental differences between corporate fundraising and charities’ most common sources of funding (i.e. grants from trusts and foundations) is the relationship style. Corporate fundraising is very much based on building relationships and stewardship. It is important that charities recognise this type of partnership and develop a case for support that demonstrates how a truly symbiotic relationship that benefits both sides could be formed. This often includes a package of support rather than ad-hoc initiatives.

As Charity Advisors at CAF, our team knows what it takes to attract corporate partners and in this article, I’ll share a few tips to help smaller charities become more competitive in attracting corporate partners.

It’s not your size but your credibility that matters

Most corporates look for charity partners that can help them achieve one or more of their own strategic goals, such as creating access to new audiences, strengthening their reputation or increasing employee loyalty. Corporates are looking to form meaningful partnerships with charities, whereby both sides benefit rather than having a more traditional donor-recipient relationship. This highlights the importance of charities to taking a relationship-based approach to corporate support.

Some corporates are also moving away from the ‘one charity partner for three years approach’,  instead supporting multiple charities that align with different strategic goals. This shift provides an opportunity for smaller charities to get on larger corporates’ radars.

Engage your network

There is a move in the corporate sector towards staff nominations for which charities they should support. Again, this is an opportunity for charities of all sizes; these nominations come from staff across all levels of an organisation whether it be a new graduate or a director. We encourage all those at a charity to engage with everyone at a corporate, irrespective of their job title, to increase your chances of being known throughout a corporate organisation. When we work with small charities, it often surprises us how broad a network they have that can be tapped into. The first step for smaller charities is to make their supporters aware that they can make a significant difference through both their professional and personal lives.

Be confident and clear about what you need

As with any relationship, open communication is key. Small charities must be clear on what support they would benefit from. It’s important to do this before having any meeting with a potential corporate partner. Cash will always be important, but what other support can a corporate provide? For example, are you in need of resources beside funding such as skills or expertise, perhaps some time to introduce certain technologies in your operations? If so, how could a corporate’s IT department help to develop this capability? This kind of project is a win for both corporates and the charity, demonstrating to the corporate that they’re valued as a partner and not just a source of funding.

Cause-related marketing is often considered part of the ‘corporate package’ but could also be seen as a standalone engagement for small or medium-sized charities. Cause-related marketing is when a commercial organisation associates a specific product or service with a charity, which often results in the charity receiving a percentage of the sale or profit of each item sold. This approach is designed to boost sales and contribute to positive brand awareness and there’s strong evidence that this works. Research by Business in the Community (BITC) shows that 86% of consumers are more likely to buy a product associated with a cause they care about and 73% said they would switch brands for the same reason.

Maximise your return on investment

Ensuring a good return on investment is vital when assessing a potential corporate partnership. As mentioned above, this goes beyond financial investment and may well impact on different parts of a charity. This is an issue for any charity but for smaller charities it is even more important to consider. A partnership may involve offering volunteering days, delivering workshops or organising fundraising days, and this can be quite a strain on a small charity’s resources.

Cause related partnerships will be a good return for smaller charities as the charity does not need upfront investment. Event based fundraising, however, has the lowest return on investment. A prime example is the ‘paint a wall’ style of volunteering where charities engage a large group of corporate volunteers, who feel like they’ve made real impact, but might not necessarily bring a genuine benefit for the charity. How much budget and time has been invested in planning and supervising the day? It is not unheard of for these activities to actually cost more than they benefit. Make sure such activities are part of a wider strategy that will see an overall positive return on investment.