Boosting Partnership Value for Corporate Foundations

 In Collaboration, Corporate Social Responsibility, Creating Shared Value, Leadership

Just about every large corporation has a foundation, however they don’t always get the most value out of their charity partners, nor do the charity partners get the best out of them either, leading to dissatisfaction all round.

Having facilitated several partner engagement and review sessions for foundations, there’s some trends showing through, and I’ve highlighted 5 that will help you shape your agenda:

1. Partnerships are becoming more strategic

Partnerships are increasingly moving from transactional to strategic, meaning they are searching for deep value on both sides rather than a company handing over a cheque. It’s driven by a clear view of both the intent and limitations of the relationship, such as:

  • Philanthropic – funding, volunteers and other resources that companies feel good about providing
  • CSR programs – essential community investments, sponsorships and accreditations that are mainly for brand and reputation purposes
  • Shared value – innovative ways of addressing societal issues as part of core and profitable business

Many companies are assessing their ‘portfolio’ of partnerships to identify which ones are good value and have the potential to grow in terms of value in the future. Likewise, charities and not-for-profits are also starting to think about the current and future value that their corporate partners bring.

A sign of maturity is for a partner to say ‘no’ when there is insufficient value, misalignment or too much risk present. Many high profile charities say they are regularly turning down proposals from companies because of incompatible attitudes or values.

2. Asset and needs analysis

Any partnering proposition is about who has what I want and who wants what I have? So there are four dimensions to be examined when reviewing, refining or brainstorming new ideas:

  • The needs of the charity
  • The assets / benefits the charity brings to the company
  • The needs of the company
  • The assets / benefits the company brings to the charity

It’s not rocket science, however you’d be surprised how valuable assets can get overlooked, or how partners limit themselves to a narrow view of the needs they can address. Office locations, purchasing power and marketing capabilities are examples from a long list of corporate assets that should be considered.

3. Elevating skilled volunteering

Some charities are content to gain access to an army of corporate volunteers to paint walls, pack boxes or plant trees; however some see this as a low value-add and want to harness the highly valuable commercial skills of their corporate partners.

In that process, it helps to hone in on specific projects or opportunities so that it feels real for the employees and the partner. Setting up platforms to loosely match people with skill needs can turn into sunken costs. In other words, find out what really works before attempting to scale up.

4. Partners must be responsive

Set and forget relationships have finite lives because one of the partners will become irate about the lack of attention or follow through they receive. Effective partnerships prioritise frequent check-ins against a road map of:

  • Milestones
  • Success indicators / metrics; and
  • Expected behaviours.

It’s also worth starting with the end in mind. i.e. Flesh out the circumstances under which the partnership will have worked / not worked and what to do when it happens.

5. Maximising time together

When heading into an engagement or review session, you may be surprised to learn that most of the hard work of the facilitator is done beforehand. Here’s some of the items high on my checklist:

  • Be clear on the objectives for the session
  • Ensure information flows are two way
  • Design activities to build trust amongst the group, which will differ according to who’s in the room and their level of familiarity with each other
  • Go in with a plan … but be prepared to change and flex on the run; and
  • Ensure the actionable next steps are identified before it ends.

In a world where we are all under pressure to do more with less, I trust the above steps will help you plan for your next review or engagement session.

Phil Preston is an expert in aligning profit with social purpose and the author of of Connecting Profit With Purpose. He can be contacted via or +61 408 259 633.

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