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Corporate partnerships best practice- lessons from the UK

Stellar Partnerships,
17 December 2019

Growing up in the UK, we always looked to Australia with wonder and curiosity: beaches, endless sunshine, houses with kitchens big enough to sit the whole family, cute bouncy animals and spiders the size of a dinner plate.

Whilst I’m not nostalgic for the warm beer, veggies boiled until they were beige and daylight that disappeared by 3pm in winter, I do miss the best practice corporate partnerships developed by UK NGOs UK corporate partnerships practitioners are setting a new standard of best practice for corporate partnerships globally- and it’s time for Australians to learn from their example.

The latest C&E Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer celebrated the most admired corporate-Ngo partnerships. The stand-out example of a best practice corporate partnership was between Boots UK, the beloved pharmacy chain in every high street, and Macmillan Cancer Support.

The partnership has focused on making a positive impact on people living with cancer by leveraging the networks, expertise and support of Boots UK to provide cancer information throughout their stores. Over 2,000 pharmacists have been trained to provide cancer specific information and 600 staff volunteered for extra training as Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors, helping those with cancer to deal with the physical challenges of their condition. Over seven years of working together, the partnership has reached thousands of people across communities in the UK and raised over £16.6 million for Macmillan.

What are the lessons that Australian charities can learn from this corporate partnership best practice example? How did the Boots/Macmillan partnership go from good to great?

1. STRATEGIC FIT

There was a natural alignment between the organisations, including their focus on health and wellbeing and the ability to leverage each partner’s assets, brand, expertise and credibility. This goes far beyond the tendency for Australian corporate partnerships to focus on a ‘case for support’ approach of simply seeking philanthropy or fundraising from a corporate partner. Strategic alignment takes a partnership into areas of much greater value and more significant social impact.

2.BIG IMPACT

 Boots and Macmillan had big ambitions to enable everyone in the UK to access cancer information in an easy and familiar setting, rather than the clinical environment of a hospital or GP’s surgery. It helps to de-stigmatise cancer when people can simply pop into their local store and feel welcomed and supported. Increasingly we are seeing corporate partners looking for greater social impact from their NGO/ community partners and a level of involvement beyond just philanthropy or fundraising. As the UK example shows, there is always cash, but it usually builds on a strong strategic alignment first.

3. LONGEVITY

Significant partnerships take a while to grow and it’s important to nurture the relationship between both organisations. It’s typical to see Australian corporate partnership managers under pressure to deliver new income and new partnerships every year, leading to a transactional approach to partnerships. However, the most valuable and impactful partnerships grow over time, so resist the temptation to chase volume rather than quality.

The other aspect of longevity is the continuity of skills in corporate partnership development. By hiring and nurturing the right corporate partnership skills and expertise, Australian charities will make a valuable investment in their future partnerships’ success. It is no coincidence that the head of partnerships at Macmillan honed her skills at Save the Children UK, whose partnership with GSK was the second most admired partnership in the C&E Barometer report

4.MUTUAL BENEFIT

As the legendary US fundraiser Kay Sprinkel Grace once said, “people give because you meet their needs, not because you have needs”. Best practice corporate partnerships need to be built on a clear understanding and commitment to mutual benefit. Too often we see Australian charities talking more about themselves and what they’ll do with a corporate’s money, rather than what they can do with the partner together. Corporate partnership managers need to spend time digging deep into a partner’s priorities, needs and aspirations to achieve a partnership that will create value for both parties and a meaningful impact on a social issue.

Let us be inspired by the examples of best practice corporate partnerships from the UK and make sure that Australia steps up a notch in how it approaches corporate partnerships. We may have better food, beaches and sunshine, but we’ve still got plenty to learn from the Old Dart.

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

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