Dawa Dem

Dawa Dem

Lead Advisory Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

How to attract corporate partners: top tips for small charities

As Charity Advisors at CAF, we often see small and medium-sized charities seeking advice on how to develop partnerships with a corporate. 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.

Here are my top tips to help your charity become more competitive in attracting corporate partners.

Take a partnership approach

One of the most fundamental differences between corporate fundraising and charities’ most common sources of funding (grants from trusts and foundations) is the relationship style. Corporate fundraising is very much based on building and maintaining meaningful relationships. Therefore it is important to develop a case for support that demonstrates how a truly symbiotic relationship could be formed, rather than a more traditional donor-recipient relationship. This often includes a package of support rather than ad-hoc initiatives.

Make a business case, not a fundraising plea

What can businesses gain from a relationship with you? 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, brand image and values, or increasing employee loyalty.

Some corporates are 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. Whatever type of community investment a company is considering, they will want to partner with organisations that are having the greatest impact in the community. One of the great strengths of many small charities is exactly that, so make sure you showcase the difference you make.

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? 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, a corporate’s IT department could 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.