Managing corporate giving effectively

the fundraiser image

Managing corporate giving effectively

Managing corporate giving effectively

Corporate funding extends beyond pure financial investment, but partnerships must be managed effectively, to avoid loss of integrity and ensure that both parties benefit from working together


Forward-thinking businesses have always wanted to be seen to be doing their bit for the communities in which they operate. Whether that has been in the form of corporate social responsibility initiatives or pro bono services, a partnership with a charity is an effective way of giving something back – and a handy profile raiser, to boot.

However, whereas simple cash donations might have fulfilled this sense of responsibility 15 or 20 years ago, the focus is now on more mutually beneficial, wide-reaching partnerships. That might include the provision of volunteers, event space, fundraising opportunities and resources or business expertise.

Certainly, those bodies that have responded to the recommendations set out in the green paper on giving have alluded to the fact that businesses have an important role to play in the government’s Big Society vision and localism agenda.

According to NCVO [1], this means in terms of financial support, delivering public services and the supply of skilled volunteers. Measuring non-financial support, it says, is more difficult. Although a large number of companies do have some kind of employee volunteering scheme in place.

In its response to the green paper, NCVO states that “A flexible, sophisticated approach to commercial support is needed to secure sustainable funding. Both the voluntary community sector and the commercial sector may need to embrace a more flexible provision – beyond bi-lateral relationships predicated on a single approach and toward a more layered approach with several partners from both sides potentially using various different approaches to support good causes.”

So, support – financial and otherwise – from corporate partnerships is more important than ever in the wake of public spending cuts. But with the space becoming increasingly competitive, and charities inundating companies with funding requests, what does this mean for fundraisers?


Common ground

For Jo Ensor, head of advisory and consulting at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), the biggest challenges are a lack of opportunities for funding and extensive competition from larger charities, with established partnerships and committed corporate fundraising teams. Such organisations have the track record and knowledge required to deliver effective corporate partnerships and can prove difficult to compete with. For that reason, fundraisers must identify those organisations which share common objectives and strategic goals.

“Charities need to understand what companies are looking for in their charity partnerships – what motivates them and how their decision-making processes work,” says Ensor. “They must present themselves in a way that responds to the corporate expectation and be incredibly clear about their vision, mission, objectives and any impact which funding will have. This will include what the partnership can deliver for the charity and for the company.”

Fundraisers should also be keeping an eye out for any opportunities to bring an innovative, truly different approach to the table, in order to help the corporate deliver its own strategic goals. For example, many companies really struggle to find meaningful volunteering opportunities for their staff. “If a charity can provide volunteering or pro bono opportunities to corporate employees, this could be the beginning of a deeper, long-term relationship that could result in funding,” says Ensor.

Of course, while the potential benefits of working in this way are obvious, for many charities a successful corporate partnership will need to be driven by a more open approach to strategy and a willingness to adapt to new circumstances. This is not a quick fix and fundraisers need to be aware that core funding and the provision of extensive support services will not happen overnight.

Clear parameters must be set at the outset of any partnership, including what both sides hope to achieve from working together. Fundraising is a fundamental consideration here, especially during these austere times. But both parties should also consider factors such as talent management and development, marketing, brand alignment and organisational change.

A long-term plan which matches the needs of both organisations and takes advantage of their strengths helps. Deloitte also recommends that a joint approach, which can be driven by both parties, is adopted – rather than simply positioning the business in a supporting role [2].

“Companies have the ability to support charities beyond traditional funding arrangement,” says Ensor. Fundraisers should invest time in their corporate partnership; explore every opportunity for pro bono and volunteering support that could help strengthen their charity’s strategic and operational working practices. Be confident about what you can and can’t achieve. Don’t over promise, and be honest transparent about your requirements and the problems you face.”

Most companies will respect this approach and, by becoming more knowledgeable about the challenges and complexities faced by their partnering charities, will be more committed and engaged with the cause over time.


Success story

For Teenage Cancer Trust corporate partnerships represent a significant proportion of income. In order to grow the funding it receives from these relationships, the fundraising team has invested in its business development and account management functions over the past three years. A successful ongoing partnership with Home Retail Group is on track to hit its financial targets and is also enabling Teenage Cancer Trust to develop its brand awareness. The charity is reaching Argos and Homebase employees, and around 800 million customers, across the UK. On the flip side, Home Retail Group’s ‘local fundraising for local communities’ brief is being met. This includes assisting the Group in its objective to provide more volunteering opportunities for its staff within their local communities. In turn, Home Retail Group provides career guidance and support to the charity’s beneficiaries, who might have missed out on certain stages of their treatment due to treatment of their illness.

What has made this partnership successful is a clear understanding between both parties of what they wish to achieve by working together and the continued local focus. This is constantly demonstrated to the individuals involved in fundraising activities, so that they can be sure that all their hard work benefits the communities in which they live and work.


Taking control

Of course, even the most careful charity does take on a certain element of risk when entering into partnership with a business.

First, is the threat of inheriting an ‘image problem’ in that if a charity’s chosen company has even a slightly jaded perception amongst the public, perhaps because of how it runs its business or negative media coverage, this can often be projected onto the charity by association. Another problem, which probably isn’t so common now as corporate responsibility has matured over the years, is conflicting brands or company values. The press adopted the term ‘McUnicef’ when international fast food giant McDonalds teamed up with the children’s charity back in 2002. Similarly, eyebrows have been raised over past collaborations between BP Shipping and environmental organisation WWF in 2006. It is perhaps surprising that the prospect of dealing with organisations that have questionable ethical track records hasn’t put off charities altogether [3].

Also a concern is the perception that by working with another party charities risk giving up a certain amount of control. A gift might be just that; but in many cases the corporate will be expecting a return on their investment – or, at the very least, will see a CR programme as a valuable marketing tool.

In an interview with Charity Times, Kids Company founder and director Camila Batmanghelidjh talked about “poisonous CSR”, whereby charities were subjected to partnerships, rather than engaging in them. “The person who gives away their money is altering the shape of charity delivery,” she said. The Kids Company, she said, had a number of successful partnerships but had learnt the hard way – for example, one former partner conducted an economic evaluation of the charity without informing its board or management team.

Of course, it would be simplistic to expect an organisation to part with valuable resources and not expect to be involved in certain strategic decisions, or to receive regular impact report updates. Fundraisers need to maintain an open dialogue with their partners and continuously monitor progress. This means meeting regularly to share success stories or discuss challenges, and develop new ideas. A bespoke approach that is unique to the individual requirements of the both the charity and the corporate is necessary. This will also strengthen the message to market and make the charity stand out from similar organisations.

“Occasionally there can be an imbalance, where the charity feels that the company as a donor has too much power or control, but this can be avoided with transparent and honest discussions at the beginning of the relationships and expectations, roles and responsibilities,” says Ensor. In an ideal world these can form the backbone of agreement that can govern the partnership.”


Future growth

Notwithstanding the issues above, it is a common view that corporate responsibility can only be a good thing for the sector. There are numerous examples of strong partnerships which have achieved significant and meaningful social change as well as establishing innovative working practices, which extend beyond pure corporate funding of projects. And fundraising is at the heart of these successful relationships. 

There are multiple ways for charities to engage in positive corporate partnerships and the role of businesses in helping the government achieve its Big Society vision is significant. In fact, it is evident that companies could contribute so much more to civil society in the long-term and this represents a fantastic opportunity for the third sector. As ever, a more ‘modern’ strategic approach is necessary. According to the Directory of Social Change, while companies already donate a large amount of funds, there are businesses that currently donate little or nothing at all. If these bigger companies started to give according to the average rate, this could represent roughly £9.5bn per year in theory. Perhaps here, lies the real potential for savvy fundraisers to tap into.



  1. NCVO response to the giving green paper
  2. Thrust, B. and Hancock, H., Emerging partnership models between business and the third sector: How charities can reap the benefits of corporate responsibility programmes. Available at
  3. Murray-West, R., ‘Charity partnerships’, CorpComms,, 03/11/2008

Get the latest fundraising advice and insight

the fundraiser cover Sign me up