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Managing corporate partnerships in extraordinary times

Linda Garnett,
25 March 2020

Corporate partnerships specialist Linda Garnett deals with a question of concern for many organisations right now – what do we do about our corporate partnerships?

ipsAfter 20 years working in corporate partnerships, we know that corporate partnership managers are a special bunch of people. But in these extraordinary times their famed superpowers are going to be needed more than ever. The global financial crisis in 2008 had a deep impact on corporate partnerships and the current COVID-19 emergency is creating even deeper uncertainty.

We are urging charities to embrace the uncertainty and position yourselves for the undoubted opportunities that will emerge from the current crisis. There are some key things you need to consider as you adapt and reposition your corporate partnerships activities.

1. COMMUNICATE EARLY AND AUTHENTICALLY

It may be that some of your programs and services have to be suspended, deferred or cancelled completely. It’s much better to have an upfront discussion with your corporate partner about the programs or service that they are funding or contributing to, rather than hold back information. We’ve been in the position of having to apologise to a partner or offer a refund of their donation when a charity has not delivered what it committed to do. Be frank and honest about the challenges you’re facing and your ideas or suggestions for workarounds. Transparency will be greatly appreciated by your corporate partner and you can involve them in finding a solution together.

If you’re trying to communicate and are getting ghosted, then try not to take it personally. Your corporate partner has more than a few pressing issues to deal with at the moment: Qantas standing down 20,000 employees and suspending its international operations is undoubtedly keeping Alan Joyce pretty busy at the moment. Let them know that you’re here, thank them for their support, give them as much free content, relevant advice or support you can and then let them have some breathing space. Your principal contact might be working from home with two toddlers, an elderly relative and dodgy internet, so be mindful of the personal and professional challenges that your partner could be facing.

2. NURTURE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS 

Many corporates are in a world of pain and confusion just like the rest of us. Reach out to your corporate contacts and start by thanking them for their support and checking in on their situation. Even better, ask if there’s anything you can do for them. Relationships are not a one-way street and you need to demonstrate that you’re willing to help with their challenges. Listen to their feedback and offer constructive suggestions.

When the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix was cancelled it left organisers with a mountain of food that was intended for entertaining guests. Second Bite were able to take the unwanted food and direct it into nutritious meals for hungry people. Similarly, The Xfactor Collective had to take a recent Meet Up online and chose to gift the pre-ordered food to The Big Issue. Last Friday The Big Issue vendors in Melbourne had a delicious lunch and afternoon tea courtesy of The Xfactor Collective.

In times of economic instability, it is crucial to nurture your existing good relationships rather than starting completely from scratch once the economy picks up again.

3. BE CREATIVE WITH STAFF, VOLUNTEER AND AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT

Traditional staff and volunteer engagement activities are being challenged with the imposition of social distancing and health requirements. This is particularly the case for charities who address the needs of vulnerable and sick community members. You’ll need to tap into your creative superpower to find new ways of creating engagement. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has chosen to move its performances online and Taronga Zoo in Sydney is livestreaming from the animals’ enclosures. If you’re a corporate with staff working from home and you’re struggling to keep them motivated, how better than to watch webcam footage of snow leopard cubs?

We’re also hearing from mental health charities that there is a huge demand from corporates for their advice and support. Think about the content your charity can provide to help a corporate with its challenges. Is it content about healthy eating, sport and exercise, managing wellbeing or children’s education for example? What’s your core expertise and how can it be leveraged to create solutions for staff, volunteers and audiences?

4. FOCUS ON YOUR IMPACT, NOT YOUR NEED

Everyone loves cash and needs to pay the bills – we get that. The problem is, there’s a lot less of it around at the moment, especially when corporates are having to make drastic decisions for their survival.

The 2008 GFC impacted cash gifts as CSR, marketing and advertising spending got cut and budgets were tight. If your corporate partner has got little budget left, you need to switch the conversation to the impact that your partnership aims to achieve. For example, if your aim is to educate and support people living with diabetes, how can you create the impact you need in another way? Can you tap into a corporate’s channels, audiences or promotional activities to reach more at-risk people than you could do with cash gifts alone?

If you focus on impact, then you invite the corporate to a much more wide-ranging discussion about how you can achieve that in partnership and you can position the relationship for future cash gifts once budgets recover.

5. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES 

There’s a temptation in difficult times to bunker down. But this is an ideal time to take a fresh look at your existing relationships and reposition or harvest the ones that are not performing. Spend this time to look for new partnerships with strategic alignment and maximum impact as they will be the ones that’ll be more sustainable over time.

In every crisis there are sectors that will unexpectedly thrive. With the current emergency it is food retailers, pharmacies, logistics and technology companies that are booming. During the 2008 GFC my corporate partner whose business was in security doors and shutters had a fabulous year when everyone else was struggling. If I had to put money on growth in the next six months it would be on Weight Watchers or Lite’n’Easy as we all chomp down on snacks whilst we’re working from home and emerge like engorged caterpillars in spring.

The COVID-19 emergency will be challenging for everyone, but the organisations who are quick to adapt and reposition will emerge with much stronger relationships and more strategically-aligned corporate partnerships.

As Helen Keller once said, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn”. Make sure you don’t miss the turn for your corporate partnerships.

Linda Garnett is a specialist business member of The Xfactor Collective. Together with her business partner Sharon Dann, they have combined 40 years’ experience in helping corporates and community partners create and maintain long-lasting partnerships.

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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