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Charity and Business: the perfect match?

15Sep Posted by Harriet Garner

One of the worst summer jobs I ever had was working as a charity telephone fundraiser. The fundraising worked exactly like telesales does: reach your targets or pack your bags. I was shocked at how cut throat the whole experience was.  This leads to a very sales led approach when dealing with the public. Existing donors (the most valuable to charities) are asked to give more money, while those looking to make a one off donation are encouraged to give less money on a more regular basis. In the streets charities accost passers-by, trying to get their details and turn them into donors.

Charities have come under media scrutiny recently due to some of the tactics described above, which are perceived to be intrusive. From my personal experience I can see why. People are busy, doing other things or simply cannot afford to donate any more. Adopting such a telesales-like structure can appear insensitive and can lead to disillusioned donors hanging up the phone. However, it does demonstrate one key thing. Charities are in a very difficult position, as their need for aid continually increases and with that so does their need for donations. Charitable organisations face the same challenges as traditional businesses, only they are selling a non-physical product that appears to only increase in price. Charitable giving is the right thing to do, but you cannot hold the end result in your hands.

What is the solution to this problem? Bartering with existing regular donors every year in the hope they will increase their donation annually is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Instead, I believe charities must look to mutually beneficial partnerships either with the public, or with businesses, as the answer.

At University, I was a part of an initiative which aimed to raise money for charities. Unlike the usual bake sales or fun runs we decided to exploit what students do most: clubbing. We identified that even the most popular clubs still had nights that were not particularly busy. Having recognised this, we approached the clubs and suggested a solution to the problem. On their least busy nights, we would arrange an event in aid of a charity of our choice, all the door proceeds would go to the charity and all the bar money would go to the club. It was mutually beneficial.

The larger scale version of this is the modern day corporate partnership, which we are seeing more and more of. From both sides, a corporate partnership can be advantageous. Last year, Forrester’s conducted a survey of 1,100 people from the UK which found that most consumers think businesses should support charities. When faced with the choice between two companies that offered the same services for the same price – 82% said their decision would be affected by whether a company engaged with charities and its local communities. The NSPCC reported that, one of their corporate partners, saw increased sales of 250% when they agreed to donate £1 of every new car insurance policy sold.

But is this sort of donation the best way for businesses to help charities? A cash lump sum, although positive, does not provide a long-term solution, as it will of course run out. Also, the general public is getting tired of businesses throwing money at a problem in order to look good, rather than trying to help solve it. Of course, one answer is social business which starts out with defined a charitable mission and financial structures in place to achieve its long-term goals. However, this business model is usually only found in new companies. For existing companies finding long term proactive partnerships with continuous resources and funding opportunities is what’s required.

An article written by the Young Entrepreneurial Council suggested three business solutions for charities. First, a company could create something specifically for a charitable cause and donate the proceeds. Secondly, give a piece of something you already sell. And finally, leverage your business relationships for the benefit of a charity. Of course, a business has a duty to its shareholders and when it comes to corporate partnerships, partnering with a charity with similar aims, interests and purpose will provide a better long term solution that keeps everyone happy.

A great example of this is when International SOS (ISOS) a leading provider of medical and travel security services, formed a corporate partnership with London’s Air Ambulance (LAA). Both business and charity have aligned objectives and shared interests allowing for a mutually beneficial arrangement. The LAA benefited from the global scale and reach of ISOS’s contacts. In turn, the LAA, through its involvement with local communities in London, exposed the work of ISOS to previously un-tapped audiences. The two companies shared medical research and training bringing benefits to both. The key thing here is that both organisations have shared aims and goals both of which were furthered by the collaboration.

Indeed, in order for a corporate partnership to be successful both parties need a solid shared purpose. Corporate partnerships, in my opinion, are the future. They facilitate charity’s taking a more business-like approach with the support and resources of their business partners. In turn both business and charity are able to align their aims and gain positive outcomes for the work they are doing, culminating in a constructive long term relationship with one another and the public.

Harriet Garner
Harriet Garner

Harriet is a communications professional with experience in social media engagement, media relations, events and launches. Prior to joining Sermelo, she was responsible for the launch of a new business enterprise scheme set up by a London property firm and the showcase of its private art collection, including a Grayson Perry tapestry.

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