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Corporate partnerships - imagining the new normal

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, people started by mourning the loss of things familiar: the Friday night drinks, Saturdays at the football, lunch with friends. It was the same with professionals working in corporate partnerships, wondering what happened to the predictability of sponsors for the annual fundraising event, the pipeline of corporate volunteers to help run the service or the regular workplace giving income.

But after the initial shock settled, some unexpected things happened to the world. Fish could be seen in the now clear waters of the Venice lagoon, a village in India was able to see the Himalayas for the first time in a generation as pollution cleared the air and naughty goats roamed a Welsh high street as they reclaimed their village. Maybe the new normal isn’t all bad.

We’ve been imagining what the new normal might look like for corporate partnerships, as it’s clear that things won’t just snap back into the old ways once COVID-19 is under control. Here are some things we’d love to see in corporate partnerships in a post crisis world.

1.Charities talk about impact, not their funding needs
The future of corporate partnerships is not in fundraising for ready-made programs but in creating social impact and meaningful value. In a brave new world charities are able to let go of the paradigm that corporates hand over large cheques and let the charities get on with the good stuff about saving the world.. Think about the innovation that will occur when charities and corporates work together on joint goals and bring all of their collective skills and resources to create outcomes together. Corporates set goals around societal issues, not just profit

The SDGs are a good overarching framework, but we’d like to see less focus on brand goodwill and more on a meaningful input to the society in which a corporate exists. If a corporate can identify its own social purpose, then it is easier to find alignment with the right community partners and make a meaningful contribution to social good. It’s fine to seek commercial benefits from a partnership, but a corporate’s net promoter score, sales results and audience engagement will be so much higher if its’ brand and strategy are integrated with the organisation’s social purpose. In a new post crisis world there will be so much extra value created for corporates and their stakeholders by releasing the potential of social purpose.

2. Charities have moved beyond sponsorship and fundraising events
It’s been hard to see the distress of charities having to cancel large scale events due to the crisis. However, it’s a great opportunity to move beyond the old paradigm of reliance on events like the gala ball, the fun run or the annual cycle race supported by corporate sponsors. In a new world lcharities and corporates can work together to imagine new ways to engage audiences and create ways for them to become more involved in and inspired by their core work. By tapping into the collective entrepreneurial skills and resources, engagement doesn’t have to be a once a year event. It can be the catalyst for new audiences, volunteers and supporters to gain a deeper understanding of the social issues you’re addressing and build a longer-term relationship with your cause. Corporates bring their whole organisation to partnerships, not just their CSR budget

In tough times corporate budgets get cut and it usually starts with CSR, HR and marketing, where most charity giving sits. CSR and HR are often the smallest budgets in a large corporate, so no coincidence that they are typically seen as the most expendable We’d like to see a shift in thinking that places community- corporate partnerships at the core of an organisation, not just part of a goodwill budget allocation. Corporates have so much more to offer than just funding and it takes a shift in thinking to integrate a partnership into the DNA of an organisation. Where corporates have done so in the past, such as Glaxosmithkline with Save the Children or Baker’s Delight with BNCA, then the results are transformational for both partners.

3. Charities and corporates work together to create solutions to society’s wicked problems
No more them and us- we’re all in it together. It’s become the catchcry of the COVID-19 crisis as the virus doesn’t discriminate. Corporates and community organisations often speak a different language, but it would be great to come to the realisation that there is no them and us, just us. There is no shortage of thorny issues to address and it’s working together in partnership that will create the biggest benefits for everyone and solutions to those wicked problems that diminish the lives of all of us.

During this crisis my dog is living her best life, with her favourite humans to keep her company and endless walks and attention. As far as she’s concerned the lockdown has been a dream. When we venture out of lockdown into a new normal, let’s dare to dream big about the changes we can all embrace and the bright new landscape for corporate partnerships.

Linda Garnett and Sharon Dann are Specialists in corporate partnerships consulting, coaching and training and foundation members of The Xfactor Collective.

Need help in your organisation? We run the sector’s first Specialist triage support service (our CONCIERGE) where we can help you find support from a range of services and solutions.

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