Philip Spedding

Former Senior Manager, Advisory and Business Development

Charities Aid Foundation

Small charities: how to form a successful corporate partnership


What a good business relationship looks like

If you are looking to develop a partnership with a business, your chances of success are going to be far greater if you approach them by explaining what you can do for them, as much as what they can do for you.

In other words, a true partnership. 

Not only will such an approach be more likely to succeed, it will also create the foundations of a relationship that is more likely to continue into subsequent years.

What could companies want from a partnership with a small charity?

Why do companies support charities? Some companies make donations because they feel that is what a good company does. Many more, however, will be interested to explore how donations can, in part, help them to improve their reputation, brand image and values, amongst the two most important groups of people for them; their staff and their customers. 

Of the many ways in which a company can do this, one of the most effective is through investing in those communities which matter most to their customers and staff as part of a corporate social responsibility programme.

When we say ‘community’ we usually mean people who live in a particular area but that need not always be the case.  Communities can also be gatherings of people who share similar concerns or challenges, irrespective of where they live. Indeed, they could be entirely online communities, following the drive to digital that has emerged from the pandemic.

Likewise any “investment” may not just be about money. Many companies will want to find opportunities for staff and customers to become more actively involved in these partnerships – the more they become involved, the more impact those investments will have on building reputation. Companies could well be interested in finding partnerships that can offer opportunities for volunteering, skill sharing and other forms of support. Indeed, many companies will use their wider staff in the decision making process, determining where those investments go and see that as a valuable part of their CSR programme.

Whatever type of community or investment a company is considering, they will certainly want to partner with organisations that are having the greatest impact in the community and one of the great strengths of many small charities is exactly that.

This was underlined in the 2021 report “The Value of Small in a Big Crisis”, published by the Lloyds Bank Foundation.  It says Small and local charities…were at the heart of the community response to the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. They demonstrated tremendous energy, flexibility and professionalism to understand the implications of the crisis and continuously adapt their provision in response to the ever-changing needs and circumstances of their local communities.

In essence, they ‘showed up’ and then ‘stuck around’, using their position of trust within communities experiencing complex social issues to support people when they were needed most.”

In short, companies may be interested in charity partnerships that will make a big difference in those communities that matter to their staff and customers, will help enhance the company’s reputation and may offer alternative ways in which the company can engage with a charity.

What can small charities ask for from a partnership with business?

When approaching businesses for support you should first explain the difference you are making to the key communities for the company. This community impact needs to be backed up with facts and figures. For all the complexity in how your charity may be supporting the community, the number of beneficiaries you reach is the most obvious metric and many business partners will be particularly interested in that figure. It might also be useful to outline your charity’s theory of change to underline how your work is improving the lives of those beneficiaries. One advantage of being a small charity is that the impact you are having is often clearer and more immediate in comparison to larger charities with more complex operations.

Having explained why your work is important and its impact on the communities which matter to the business, you then need to explain how you would like a partnership with that company to work; what you can offer them and what they you can offer you in return.

The most obvious thing they could offer you would be money, but if you are asking only for money you are joining a very crowded marketplace, with demand comfortably outstripping the amount companies have to spend. That doesn’t mean requests for money aren’t successful – just that their chances of success are lower.

Instead it might make sense to think laterally about your needs as a charity. After all, you are only asking for money so that you can do things. Are there other ways a company could help you reach the same objectives? Might they be able to offer specialist expertise on IT, for example, or provide products that you can sell at fundraising events or use in your work? Could they help promote your work to others? Certainly the more people who know about your work, the more likely you are to get more individual supporters. Staff might even be interested in becoming trustees or volunteers, bringing their networks and contacts into your charity.

The more creative you can be as to how you would like to partner with the company, the more options you are giving them for interesting ways to work with you. And that could make it easier for them to say yes.


Making a greater difference

In April 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about the importance of small charities:The unsung heroes looking after the vulnerable and holding together our social fabric.”

If your charity is making a difference to peoples’ lives in a particular community and there are businesses who care about that community because it matters to their staff or their customers, then it makes sense to approach those businesses to suggest how, by working together, you can have an even greater impact on your beneficiaries.