· 2 min read · Features

Beyond the basics: taking business charity partnerships to the next level


While business charity partnerships often revolve around fundraising and volunteering, any partnership worth its salt nowadays needs to go way beyond these basics.

With the Business Charity Awards having taken place last month, it seems like a good time to look at what makes a decent business charity partnership. There are a lot of them about, but how many really maximise the potential to make a genuine positive impact on the charity, the business and its employees in equal measures?

Many ‘charity of the year’ style partnerships don’t come close, not because they are not valuable in themselves – fundraising and volunteering is all good, after all – but because they fail to capitalise on other opportunities. And, by the way, talking of ‘charity of the year’, a year is never long enough; most partnerships are just getting going after a year.

I recently had the chance to review the partnership between Sky and environmental charity Global Action Plan (GAP), which was highly commended for the Charity Partnership award. The features of this relationship provide a useful template for successful business charity partnerships that want to go beyond fundraising and volunteering.

First, the partnership is based on an issue of shared interest. GAP promotes the behaviour change in employees needed to support a cut in carbon emissions, while for Sky environment is a key pillar of activity in its Bigger Picture initiative. Identifying issues of shared interest is not just about linking core business activities with external, social issues; it is also about thinking about the issues which could ‘kill or cure’ a business in the long term.

Second, with some partnership activities, Sky and GAP are essentially suppliers of services to one another. This is mostly in the form of expertise. So Sky learns from GAP how to engage with its employees and local communities to reduce environmental impacts and GAP learns from Sky how to, for example, market itself more effectively. This is quite transactional in nature and is based on the partners’ aims (rather than the partnership aims). It shows that the adage that all partnership activities should be based on mutual objectives is not always true.

This also reflects the trend of charities increasingly acting like businesses, ‘selling’ their specialist services and relying on ‘commercial’ revenue as well as donations and grants.

Third, the partnership also includes genuinely collaborative initiatives – and this is where the concept of partnership and mutual objectives comes into its own. So in this case, Sky and GAP have worked together to create ‘Appetite for Action’, a programme for primary schools that helps them to reduce their environmental impact arising from food. One partner could not have done this without the other; it is a collaborative effort that relies on working together closely and drawing on each other’s strengths.

So, the learning points to apply to the relationship you may be embarking on:

  • Fundraising and volunteering are great, but may just be the tip of the iceberg
  • Be open about your own objectives and find out the objectives of your potential partner; it’s not all about so-called mutual objectives. Identifying your ‘selfish’ aims is not a selfish thing to do!
  • Identify how you can work together in a truly collaborative way, ie, what can you do together that neither partner could do by itself?
  • Give it time. Three years is needed to really get to know each other and maximise the potential of the relationship. Openness, transparency and honesty are key.

This way the chances of creating a real ‘win win’ will be maximised – and that, after all, is what we’d all like to see.

Jan Levy is managing director of Three Hands