When executed well they have a multitude of benefits, both for a business, its staff and the wider community. Yet some don’t deliver on their full potential – the charity may be benefiting, but is the partnership delivering on your HR objectives?
Let’s start at the beginning: why partner with a charity?
For the business the main benefits are that they build reputation, develop their staff, and mitigate against corporate crises that sometimes lead stakeholders to question a company’s ethics or values.
However, it’s not just about reputation, shareholder value, and brand differentiation. Charity partnerships are great for encouraging pride in the workplace and developing staff skills. They are also a good way to improve collaboration by building bridges across internal silos.
To get the most out of charity partnerships, however, an HR director must consider a number of factors before embarking on one.
First, who are the different stakeholders in the business and how would any partnership serve them? Understanding how their goodwill impacts their perception of the business will help inform your decision and ensure it delivers maximum business value. For some of your stakeholders reputation will be paramount; for others, sales, operational effectiveness or productivity will be their key motivators.
Second, HR directors must consider what charitable work has already been done. Review the progress of existing partnerships – why did they work or not work? What have the challenges and learnings been? Perhaps most importantly, have all parts of the business – as well as all demographics – been actively engaged?
Finally, and most importantly, what is the objective and business case supporting the proposed charitable partnership? The business case can range from improving the reputation of your business in the local community to helping accelerate the integration of new employees who have joined following a merger.
One example of this is the work the JST did with Norton Rose Fulbright, the multinational law firm established following the merger of Norton Rose and Houston's Fulbright & Jaworski in 2013.
From 2012 to 2014, the global law firm sponsored the Jubilee Sailing Trust Norton Rose Fulbright Sail the World Challenge, providing their offices across the world with a common philanthropic focus following the merger. The partnership was successful, becoming a focus for local team building, community engagement and client entertainment.
Understanding the business case will help you convince the board, and get the necessary political and financial support to see it through to fruition.
More recently the JST has been supporting Barclays' LifeSkills programme, which aims to give young people new confidence and life and workplace skills.
One of the activities has involved Barclays staff from Poole sailing around the Solent as buddies to disabled crew members selected from other partner charities within their local community. This provided an excellent forum for Barclays’ staff to help their community, build their team and make a significant contribution to its nationwide Citizenship programme.
Once partnerships such as these have been established they need to be structured, organised, and continually refined for ongoing relevance.
Engage all stakeholders from day one and get them involved in the partnership design – give them ownership. Top-down dictates are less likely to work and partnerships led by the stakeholders they serve tend to be much more successful.
Create peer-to-peer accountability across all stakeholders; emphasise collective responsibility for success and review progress often so you can adjust and improve the partnership. Expect to adapt to changing pressures and the needs of different stakeholders, and more importantly, communicate that this is the intent from launch.Finally, focus on making it fun and rewarding for all involved, because that’s what it’s all about!
Duncan Souster is CEO of the Jubilee Sailing Trust