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Overcoming the Iceberg of Ignorance in Corporate Partnerships

Stellar Partnerships,
17 December 2019

The Iceberg of Ignorance study suggested that only 4% of problems in an organisation were known to senior management, whilst those involved in day to day operations had a much richer view of all of the issues.

It seems to hold true for corporate partnership managers who frequently tell us that their leadership and board don’t understand the challenges of partnerships. Have you found a copy of the BRW Top 200 magazine on your desk with a note from the CEO suggesting that you call each of them? Or maybe the Fundraising Director that saw a great charity-corporate partnership featured in the airline in-flight magazine and wants you to replicate it? It’s a horribly familiar pattern of well-meaning optimism combined with a chronic lack of understanding about corporate partnerships. It’s frustrating for leadership and disheartening for the corporate partnership professionals carefully nurturing opportunities.

But leadership and board are critical to the success of corporate partnerships, so you need to find ways to overcome the Iceberg of Ignorance and transform your leadership into advocates and supporters for your efforts. Here’s a few tips that have helped to melt the iceberg for our clients:

1. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS AND TRUST

As a partnership manager you work hard to build relationships with your corporate partners; now take the same approach to your leadership and board members. Get to know them, take time to understand their backgrounds and motivations, learn about their challenges. You’ll probably find that many are struggling with the complexities of fundraising, let alone partnerships, so make yourself their trusted go-to person.

2. HELP THEM LEARN

Board members are usually juggling full time jobs elsewhere, so have limited time to develop their understanding of partnerships properly. You can help them learn by sharing relevant articles, proving education sessions, giving them useful tools to help in their conversations with potential partners. More informed board members will be more confident in participating in partner development- and will be less likely to bombard you with random, left field ideas for you to pursue.

 3. GET THEM INVOLVED IN THE PARTNERSHIPS PROCESS

Typically, the first time the board or leadership encounters corporate partnerships is when they approve your strategy paper. The more effective approach is to get them involved much earlier, in the process of developing the strategy and priorities. When we work with clients, we always involve key leadership and board representatives in the early workshops to explore opportunities, understand assets and offerings and refine the prospect shortlist. Not only do you gain multiple insights and perspectives, but you build trust and commitment along the way.

4. CREATE CONNECTIONS

Sometimes people learn best from external experts or their peers. It’s frustrating, I know, because you’ve been telling them about partnerships for ages and it doesn’t seem to be sinking in. Take a different tack and try connecting your leadership with an external perspective on partnerships. Bring in a corporate client (yours or someone in your network) to talk to them about what they want in a community partner, make introductions to leaders in other NFPs so they can learn from each other, arrange a workshop with an external expert to get insights into sector trends, suggest events to network with similar leadership peers. Learning through connections will help build their confidence and they don’t have to admit to you how little they understood in the first place!Sometimes people learn best from external experts or their peers. It’s frustrating, I know, because you’ve been telling them about partnerships for ages and it doesn’t seem to be sinking in. Take a different tack and try connecting your leadership with an external perspective on partnerships. Bring in a corporate client (yours or someone in your network) to talk to them about what they want in a community partner, make introductions to leaders in other NFPs so they can learn from each other, arrange a workshop with an external expert to get insights into sector trends, suggest events to network with similar leadership peers. Learning through connections will help build their confidence and they don’t have to admit to you how little they understood in the first place!

History tells us that people who try to meet icebergs head-on don’t have a happy ending- nor does trying to swerve around work too well (yes, Titanic, we’re thinking of you). You can melt your own Iceberg of Ignorance through a combination of good old-fashioned relationship management and some simple and helpful interventions. Then you’ll have a board and leaderships that is educated, informed and keen to help your partnership success. 

If you need help to melt your Iceberg of Ignorance or kick-start your partnerships program then contact us.

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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