Gordon Shallard-Brown from Pilotlight gives his top tips on how charities can harness corporate resources and expertise.
In the current economic climate, more and more charities are looking to corporate partners to help diversify their funding. However, businesses have much more to offer charities than purely financial input - including the time, skills and commitment of their employees.
The days of skilled professionals painting a fence are largely gone, and the focus is now on skills-based volunteering. That being said, how charities can access and make the most of the expertise available continues to be an issue many struggle with. Here are some ways to tackle this:
Think local and informal
There may be great potential partnerships close to home. One charity we've worked with has an excellent relationship with a small, local firm of accountants, who do their accounts once a year for free and are available for a phone call when it's needed. This sort of informal, ad hoc arrangement built on personal relationships is perfect for a small charity that would not have the capacity to enter a structured, formal relationship with a large corporate partner.
Businesses can offer a lot to charities, from informal advice over a coffee to free publicity and skilled professional work. Businesses may not have realised they can help charities like this - so get out there, talk to them and be confident about the benefits of partnerships.
Find a good match
Strong partnerships are often built where companies can offer non-cash donations to a charity based nearby, or one in a similar field - such as lawyers helping out on a charity's legal advice phone line. The more closely a business can relate to the context of the charity's work, be that geographic or by cause, the more likely they are to engage.
Make use of your networks
Think about who in your network you could speak to. If your networks aren't currently very strong, think about joining a local business network - these are great for meeting people and for building relationships. Being confident and clear about how you could work together can lead to great results.
When discussing a partnership, highlight the benefits that your charity can bring to it; they can include things as simple as a thank you in your annual reports or a link on your website. Don't underestimate the positive association businesses get from being connected with a well-respected local charity, or the increased job satisfaction that a business's employees can get from working with you.
Weigh it up
A partnership has to be right for your charity, so don't accept help that may not be necessary just because you think it might lead to funding further down the line. For a charity that already has excellent social media provision and skill in-house, the time put into managing corporate tech volunteers to also look at it will be a waste. Understanding the needs of a business and when to approach them is crucial; for example, an accountant may have less time for a chat in the run-up to the end of the financial year.
Some small charities may initially feel that developing these sort of corporate relationships are simply out of their reach or too much work. However, by exploring local networks, being focused and confident, you can develop strong partnerships that bring real benefits to your charity.
Gordon Shallard-Brown is a project manager at Pilotlight, which offers free strategic planning support to charities and social enterprises, tackling disadvantage in the UK by harnessing the skills of business leaders.