Even the smallest of charities usually rely on some form of outsourced support for their fundraising and day-to-day activities. Solid working practices and strong relationships are crucial for maximising the benefits that partnerships can bring. Scott Gray, a supplier to the charity sector and chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s Suppliers Forum, shares his top tips for success…
- Start as you mean to go on: From the beginning, it’s vital to set clear boundaries in areas such as planning, account management, goals and reporting. This means that both sides will know from the start what they are aiming to achieve, who’s responsible for what, and that their agendas are on the same page.
- Resourcing: Allocating the right people, experience and time to manage your relationships is vital. Never spread resources so thinly that the work you do together is compromised. Also, consider peer matching – relationships between the same level of seniority on either side enables an easier mutual level of respect as well as faster decision making; allowing for a more agile relationship that breeds efficiency, innovation and success.
- Communicate: Communication is probably the most vital component of any partnership. By talking (and reporting) regularly, charities and their suppliers can build solid working relationships and establish mutual trust. Talking regularly – not only in formal meetings but also via informal chats over a coffee – is invaluable. This helps build a natural rapport and it’s often the only way either party will find out about niggly issues not suitable for the main meeting agenda but which can build up into a real problem down the line. Catch a problem early and it’s easier to sort out.
- Respect each other’s expertise: Any partnership is a two-way channel and it’s important to remember to listen to feedback and suggestions for improvements, from both sides. Supplier teams are often experts within their fields with a real understanding of client needs and able to give advice on topics such as regulation compliance, optimising processes, realistic timings and market trends. Inhouse fundraising teams are guardians of their organisation’s brand values, understanding business goals and how to navigate their own internal channels and practices most effectively.
- Problem solve: A charity/supplier relationship is like a marriage and can often go wrong for the same reasons as a marriage fails – communication, blame, inequality, lack of mutual respect and so on. It’s important to work together to correct problems and find solutions without laying blame. Work out challenges together, bringing minds and thinking from both sides to right any wrongs and grow stronger and more effective at achieving great results in a real partnership.
- Do your homework: It helps if both partners have a strong understanding of what the other does and is trying to achieve. For suppliers, that’s understanding the cause and mission, which could mean experiencing the charity’s work first hand – going out into the field, visiting projects or volunteering for a day – to get under the skin of the brand. Suppliers can invite fundraisers to spend time at their premises, meeting team members, following processes and developing an understanding of what goes on behind the scenes.
- Plan together: I’d recommend some future-gazing together. Talk to your partners about where you want to get to, and evaluate the opportunities for how you can get there in partnership. If you’ve invested the time and effort in the relationship, then chances are you’ll both benefit from the understanding and knowledge of each other’s business so you can plan more effectively for success and growth.
- Innovation and trust: These go hand-in-hand. Any organisation needs to innovate to keep ahead of its field and maintain its competitive edge. Achieving this means it’s often necessary to trial and test new ideas and thinking, whether that be around fundraising products, services or processes. The key is not to be afraid of trying, nor of failing, take small steps if necessary but from a position of trust always trial and test – success is often a win/win for both organisations, in results for the charity and reputation for the supplier.
- Review regularly: Carrying out regular reviews to assess the partnership and identify what can be improved, how things can run more smoothly or how results could be better, will ultimately lead to a more open and trusting relationship, as well as better results. Once you’ve asked how things can improve, it’s important to act on the answer to make the exercise worthwhile. Good feedback shared with a team can be hugely motivational and build loyalty with a team prepared to go the extra mile. Any bad feedback given openly can be promptly investigated and put right, often leading to appreciation for a swift resolution and mending bridges, building trust and deepening the relationship.
- Share the love: In fundraising, we all work within a challenging sector, so it’s important to give credit when it’s due. Maybe your supplier has implemented a method which has saved you vital funds, or perhaps you’re working with a charity that has devised an outstanding ground-breaking campaign? Either way, good working practices should also be recognised, not only through direct feedback but also by talking to our sector peers, sharing case studies and even entering awards to highlight and showcase the good work we’ve experienced and are proud of.
There will always be supplier partnerships that don’t stand the test of time. But, by taking the above tips into consideration, charities and suppliers alike can ensure that they’re managing their relationships to the best of their ability, reaping the rewards that develop over time.
Scott Gray is CEO of Rapidata, a supplier for charity Direct Debit management and online regular giving.