Episode 38: Ben Swart – Strategic Corporate Partnerships; now more than ever

Episode Notes

For many years, the orthodox way to secure a charitable partnership has been to apply through a formal process to the biggest companies. It usually involves several stages, is time-consuming, and only has one winner. Though there are upsides to this model, (especially for the lucky few charities whose brand is popular enough to win the staff vote that is often the final hurdle), there are many downsides, especially if your charity is less well known.

Another option is to proactively seek partnerships with companies where there can be a strategic fit, and which far fewer charities are pursuing.

In this episode, I explore with corporate fundraising expert Ben Swart, the reasons why the trend for strategic partnerships is growing. He explains this is in part influenced by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. And though there are clear benefits to strategic partnerships, they usually require a greater level of proactivity on the part of the fundraiser.

We explore these issues, as well as explaining four of the tactics covered in Bright Spot’s Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme that we find help you to find and create these valuable partnerships in practice.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help other charities – THANK YOU! – we are both on Linked In and on twitter, where Ben is @benswart and I am @woods_rob.

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, I cover lots of helpful tactics in my free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Further Resources

To go much deeper into these and dozens of other strategies, and get help in implementing them, check out the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme.

Quotes

‘Now more than ever there is an opportunity for us to go on a peer to peer level with these companies and say, together we can do something to solve this problem.’

Ben Swart

‘From the company’s point of view, they’re noticing that the campaigns they’re doing with charities are more likely to be viewed online, more likely to be viewed for longer and more likely to be shared.’

Ben Swart

Transcript of Episode 38

Rob Woods:

Hello. This is Rob Woods and welcome to episode 38 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in charity fundraising, anyone’s ideas for how to raise more money, really enjoy their job and make a bigger difference even during the pandemic. And if you’re a corporate fundraiser or if corporate partnerships is one of the things you’re responsible for, I think you’re going to find today’s episode really interesting, especially at this stage in the Covid crisis, because I’m about to share an interview I carried out recently with the always inspiring Mr. Ben Swart.

Rob Woods:

Ben is the very experienced Head of New Business for corporate fundraising at the NSPCC. And he currently performs this role two days a week and separately, he works with me at Bright Spot as a fundraising coach and trainer. And he’s been my co-trainer on the Corporate Mastery Program for the last six years.

Rob Woods:

If you’re a long-standing listener to the podcast, you may remember Episode 19, which is still one of our most popular episodes ever in which Ben gives tips and encouragement to help you pick up the phone to talk to your supporters during the pandemic. In today’s episode, I particularly wanted to explore the difference between traditional partnerships, including the charity of the year model and strategic corporate partnerships.

Rob Woods:

There is a role for both models that Ben and I have noticed that for many charities, especially smaller and medium-sized ones now more than ever, the time is right to proactively seek strategic partnerships. So we talk about the factors we believe are contributing to this, and we explore several tactics that can help you proactively secure valuable strategic partnerships of your own.

Rob Woods:

By the way, at the time of recording, there are just two places left for the Corporate Mastery Program. We are due to start in the Autumn of 2020. So if you like the ideas that Ben and I talk about and you want support to help implement this way of working, do get in touch via brightspotfundraising.co.uk. For now though, get ready to enjoy Ben’s ideas on winning strategic corporate partnerships.

Speaker 2:

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by Bright Spot Mastery Programs. So if you need to increase income in corporate partnerships or major donor and trust fundraising, these programs will help. As well as the advanced strategies you learn on the training days, you’ll receive one-to-one coaching to help you put those powerful techniques into practice. To find out more about the Corporate Mastery and Major Gifts Mastery programs, head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob Woods:

My first question, Ben is, if there are broadly two ways of working, you can work in a kind of a charity of the year type way where you’re applying for stuff, where the company is in its CSR policy said they’re going to go out and help certain good, or there’s a strategic partnership way of working. Do you want to start off by telling me what those two mean to you and what the real differences are?

Ben Swart:

Absolutely, Rob. So for me, the biggest distinction I think is that when you are thinking about strategic partnerships, it is about you being more proactive about looking at your charity, where you need to be to help your beneficiaries, sorts of audiences that are attracted to you and your projects and your campaigns. And then you, taking the time and energy to say who are the companies that would be interested in or match those things I’ve uncovered. It’s very much about being proactive yourself.

Ben Swart:

The charity of the year world, which is the way that people have been giving to charity for years and years and years, and is a crucial way is I feel a bit more about the company saying, and the company taking control to say we have a tender process every few years. And so we would like to ask a group of charities, please come and apply. And then we probably together with our staff, will pick out of you, which one gets to get our money, which is very likely to be raised from fundraising events.

Ben Swart:

And then we’ll write you a cheque for a philanthropic or a very specific project. And so often the charity of the year world is one where you may well join a queue. I know that the last time that Morrison’s, for instance, looked for a charity partnership, I think over 250 charities applied for one position. So the charity of the year world is very much lots of people applying and hoping that they get this one pot, the strategic one is looking at yourselves, about the things that you can do, where you need to be and then deliberately asking out of all of the companies who are the ones that we should be going for.

Rob Woods:

Great. And so clearly I see why it’s so tempting and actually lots of good gets done for lots of great causes and has done for the last 30 years through the charity of the year model. So there are clear advantages to it, especially if you are the kind of charity that has the kind of brand and resources and skill to go and win these things. Clearly there’s a massive upside. And I see why it’s so tempting that, oh, here we are obeying the rules, it’s in their policy, they’re offering this value, this money. I see why that, if you don’t think too deeply about it, that seems like the most tempting way to approach it.

Rob Woods:

And yet I think probably many of our viewers and listeners are wholly aware that in reality, for the majority of charities, there are massive downsides to jumping and putting all your eggs in the basket of this application route.

Ben Swart:

Absolutely. And even though before the pandemic, so before the pandemic hit, I think 70 to 80% of all of the gifts that were given to charities were given to them through this charity of the year type staff engagement route, that year on year is falling quite rapidly. And since the pandemic’s hit the types of companies that could either raise that sort of money or have the space capacity to give and think about partnerships in that way has shrunk. And actually what we’ve noticed, before the pandemic we’ve been noticing this, strategic partnerships were really increasing and it makes sense.

Ben Swart:

Lynx Africa talks to young men, Lynx speak to lots of young men by links. I remember that at Christmas and it makes sense for them to have a partnership with CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, if they are trying to work with and support young men, it doesn’t make sense for Lynx Africa to ask their 2000 employees to vote on a charity partner that they may or may not want to have to … It’s a strategic decision. And so since the pandemic has hit more and more organizations are seeing that actually we need to be as strategic with this decision for our charity partner, as we are with lots of other things too.

Rob Woods:

So one of the key things is, it’s just a numbers game. I think that brilliant fundraiser called Alex Wooding, who spoke on my Bright Spot Members Club at the breakfast club that we run. She said, why would you join this shark tank where however, bright and hardworking you are as a fundraiser and as a charity, you’re competing with just the sheer scale of numbers, it’s like playing the lottery, why would you do that, however good you are? And so, just the numbers are against you, but also, especially for many charities in terms of how big you are or what … how cuddly and attractive your brand is likely to be to the employees who often end up voting on these things.

Rob Woods:

Again, even if you pitch brilliantly, the majority of the time you then get put forward to a staff vote. So the quality of your pitch doesn’t matter. It just comes back to a popularity contest again. It’s just a soul destroying thing to work really hard and well, and still lose if you’re trying to play the wrong game.

Ben Swart:

Absolutely. And especially as those sorts of partnerships have pound signs all over them, right? Let’s not forget that it’s precisely because they’re a partnership that has thousands of staff raising money for it, that it gets onto the internet, that it tells you that there’s this amount of money, that your directors see it, that your CEO sees it. And they see another charity partner with it and they say, why can’t you just apply for that? And there’s lots of pressure there.

Ben Swart:

And what that means is that year after year, the pipelines that many corporate fundraisers are working on are the same pipeline that they’ve been working on for years. The pipeline that they inherited, I think that Alex at that breakfast session put it really well. She’d worked for a cancer charity, a dementia charity, a youth organization, really different charities with nuanced audiences and problems. And she said, the one thing they all had in common was their corporate pipeline because everyone was going for the same buck, the shark tank.

Ben Swart:

And so what we have to do back to the right at the beginning is say, stop that. Who are we? Who are we as an organization? Where do we need to be? Which audiences are most moved by us? What are the biggest hurdles, biggest challenges to our beneficiaries? And then if I were starting from scratch and saying, which companies could most help me with these sorts of problems or want to speak to the sort of audience that most cares about my problem, who would those companies be?

Ben Swart:

And that’s a very different sort of conversation to please let me join your queue of 50 other charities to hopefully win your spot for one year to get money. So I’m making the same point again, but for me, strategic partnerships now more than ever are crucial.

Rob Woods:

Sometimes we, the fundraiser thought what we needed was money. Actually we need either money and or at its best a company that can help you further your mission.

Ben Swart:

Absolutely. And what’s fascinating about these, is that the more I’ve studied them, the more I’ve delivered them myself, and the more I’ve worked with other fundraisers is they can help us as charities to make huge impact. We have a partnership with O2 because children aren’t safe online all the time. And one of the reasons is parents, when they give them their first phone, don’t know what to do to keep them safe. And before the partnership, we were reaching about 50000 parents and because of the reach of someone like O2, we’re now reaching for four million.

Ben Swart:

I’ve heard of other organizations like Missing People, have now reached people, millions more people than they would have done with their partnership with Royal Mail, CALM and Lynx, et cetera. For the charity side, because you’re not saying I have this fully formed project, company, please give me some money to fund it. We’re saying, I have this problem, this problem in society, this problems with my beneficiary together, how would we solve it if we were working together? Because you’re doing that, you can make huge advances on solving the problem.

Ben Swart:

But then from the company side, they’re noticing that the campaigns they’re doing with charities are more likely to be viewed online, more likely to be viewed for longer, more likely to be shared, fast forward six months and it has effects on buying habits, on loyalty, on trust. In many cases, products with cause related marketing attached to them, products with a part of this campaign, they sell more. Make-A-Wish and Fairy, the time of the year when they sell a bottle of Fairy where 25 Pence goes to Make-A-Wish Foundation at Christmas, someone from the agency that works selling Fairy said to me that that is their most profitable time of the year, Rob.

Ben Swart:

And that these sorts of partnerships helped Fairy to negotiate with supermarkets, get more shelf space. It helped Fairy to have an emotional connection to their audience. It helped them to differentiate it. So it’s not just chemicals and water. It’s something [inaudible 00:12:29] and it’s at a time of year when they’re able to take more of a … giving a charity money is actually less they would spend than if they were putting it on offer or something. So what we were noticing before the pandemic hit is that left right and center smart companies were using their charity partnerships as their marketing campaigns, as their chance to engage their audiences and their staff.

Ben Swart:

Since the pandemic, and I know we were talking about this, every advert now is look at the good I am doing, whether that is literally as closely related to coronavirus as possible, I’m now helping the NHS or I’m helping key workers through to look at the charity work I’ve been doing or the partnerships that I have. Now more than ever, not only are companies wanting to tell their audience about the work they’re doing with charities, but the decisions to shift the way a company is working, work with charities, change supply chains, support beneficiaries, those decisions aren’t just being made by a small team in the corporate social responsibility department.

Ben Swart:

Chief executives, marketing directors, operations directors, are standing back and saying, if we are to make a better impact on the world, what do we need to do as a business from scratch? They’re not saying if for one month of the year we wanted to look quite good and engage our staff, what would that look like? Let’s give that project to the CSR team. They’re saying if the purpose of our business was to change, to make, leave the world better, how might we do that? And so that is for me, that’s a huge market to say, charities let’s do the same.

Rob Woods:

Yes. And there’s this extra angle, I think not only do I sense more companies are really clear of the commercial value to not to be doing good, but also telling the world that they are doing good. They step up. The Specsavers advert is so clearly saying, look at us. I mean, well done to them. They have, it seems to me done some great things helping vulnerable people during the pandemic. But crucially, I think it’s interesting that they’ve given all of their advertising space to wanting to tell their target market that that is what they have been doing. And none of that messaging is about product or some special offer. So it’s clear. I think the reason we’ve got a special opportunity now is the companies seem to be hungrier than ever to want to be doing good and be seen to be good.

Rob Woods:

But I think there’s this extra angle from the charity’s point of view because of the way almost every charity I know has had to change its overall strategy in the last few months, because it had to work remotely or because, its means of delivering the education or the scholarships or whatever have had to change under lockdown. On a sixpence, most charities have done amazingly well to work differently. But I think now, as they re-look at this point in 2020, what is their strategy going to be for helping as many of their best beneficiaries as well as they can.

Rob Woods:

I think there are opportunities to make use of the expertise and the resources of the corporate, which the charity itself need not have. Could you talk about that idea briefly please?

Ben Swart:

Absolutely. I think that, I used to say, isn’t it that two thirds of my job was influencing people internally, not externally. And that what I really meant by that was most of it was trying to work with our projects to ask ourselves and the organization, to ask ourselves the question not how can I get this project funded? But if, like we said earlier, if we’re solving the problem together with a company, what might it look like? And that is really hard to do when a project is working really well and the model works and it has worked for 30 years and it’s getting changed a bit, but not a huge way.

Ben Swart:

But as of March this year, that model was flipped upside down and changed completely. And one thing I’ve noticed is that we don’t always like being honest and transparent with people who don’t work for our charities. We don’t like saying when we’re struggling or when something is tricky or when we’re not reaching enough beneficiaries or when there is a challenge that we’re struggling to hit. But on the 20th of March this year, nobody would have said to you, would have had a go at you when the model meant … didn’t work anymore.

Ben Swart:

It meant that organizations and people and the people delivering our projects were 100% transparent. They could say help me, because if I’m really going to help my beneficiary, I need to change the model. We used to give them therapy face-to-face, that can’t happen anymore. None of my staff can come into the office. We don’t even have enough laptops. None of them know how to use their tablets, the young people we help don’t have tablets. For the first time ever these models needed to be changed. And so the question isn’t can I have money to fund my project?

Ben Swart:

The question is, well, I need money to fund my project, but I’m not entirely what my project needs to be for the next three months, can I get help there as well? And that crucially gives us a chance to say, I think we can … Tell me more about that problem. Tell me more about how we’re struggling to reach our beneficiary or what we now think is a challenge due to coronavirus, and then who are the companies that could in some way, give us advice or support or pro bono or tech and funding to, but those other things, and what I found is that previously it may have been trickier to try out and pilot and get a company in quickly to support us.

Ben Swart:

Now more than ever, actually things are happening really quickly. But the speed with which change happened when coronavirus hit, we’ve we tried out five or six different projects, fundraisers, campaigns, and waves of helping in the space of a month, that would’ve normally been nine month’s worth of work. And I’m seeing that everywhere. I think there’s a LinkedIn post that’s doing the rounds that says, what has transformed your organization’s innovation quicker, your CEO, your chief technical officer or Covid-19?

Ben Swart:

And I think for me, it’s that premise that should shift our mindset to say actually now more than ever is an opportunity for us to go on a peer to peer level with these companies and say together we can do something to solve this problem, which coronavirus has created for our charity and projects.

Rob Woods:

Yes. And actually it doesn’t even need to be problems only to do with service delivery or how you organize your research. I love the example from someone, from a youth, a fairly small youth charity in our Corporate Mastery Program, just recently sharing with the group that he picked up the phone and called a design agency. And they did the web design and social media. And he articulated to them that one of his big problems in the pandemic is that there isn’t … Now, all of the marketplace is an online digital marketplace and our website is not very good. And we have no social media management at … presence at all.

Rob Woods:

And he articulated that problem to them. They cared. And at that point in the pandemic, they’ve given him £30,000 worth of pro bono help improving their website so they can help more young people and be more attractive to donors. And then crucially giving them an online presence with social media content management. So it’s not only just the right kind of what you thought your mission was. It’s all elements of what has just become harder for charities now.

Rob Woods:

There are some companies who aren’t entirely uninterested and don’t care, but there are many companies who A, care about your cause and B, know that their target market cares. If you give them the chance to enjoy helping you make the world a better place, and you let them have partnership status and they can tell their market that they’ve done a good thing, then I can see why that online company stepped up and has done a great thing for … to help that youth charity.

Ben Swart:

Absolutely. And I know Rob, you were telling me about another person on the courses whose worked with a charity that plants trees, and they’ve got a good partnership with a gardening app. And you’re absolutely right. And the interesting thing is that I was having my breakfast this morning, companies have been doing this for years. If you have a look at your cereal boxes, they’re aware, but the sort of person who buys children’s cereal is the sort of person who has a family, they’re desperate for things to do with their kids. They know their audience.

Ben Swart:

So they are having, Kellogg’s have strategic partnerships with Madame Tussauds because they want to take their kids there. That is a different audience to Kellogg’s people who buy Red Berry. If you buy Kellogg’s Red Berry, you’re probably going to be healthier, maybe the Swarts are trying to be healthier. And if you’re trying to be healthier, then you are more into exercise. So look, Kellogg’s have a strategic partnership with Reebok, and what’s fascinating is Reebok aren’t trying to partner with the bit of Kellogg’s that’s selling to children, or that’s looking for fun engaging days out.

Ben Swart:

Reebok is trying to partner with the bit of Kellogg’s that speaks to healthy people, fitness and people who run. And back to right at the beginning, by doing charity of the year or going for everyone or just the richest companies, you’re ignoring the fact that there will be companies out there who, the things you talk about, the projects you have, the audience who care about you, the way people think about your work, there’ll be companies out there that basically they want to meet.

Ben Swart:

They’re currently spending money thinking through who can we partner with? What can we do? What campaigns can we do to reach that sort of person? Out of all of this, I guess I’m hoping we’re sending the clues to pause and change the way you’re looking at your pipeline.

Rob Woods:

Fantastic. So if I were to pull out some of the tactics that we teach on the Corporate Mastery Programme, that help you work more this way and increase your results in this area, number one is just to have the philosophy and the understanding of why this way is worth having a tool. But then secondly, you can’t work this way if you’re trying to aim for 120 companies, focus is power. On the programme, we teach a Dream 10, you decide your 10 where it absolutely makes sense for all the reasons for both parties that you’ve been saying so far in this interview. And then thirdly, there are actually various different ways you can get that first conversation.

Rob Woods:

One of the five ways we teach on day one of Corporate Mastery is the ambassador strategy. Who do we know who might know someone at one of these companies? And you ask them to open the door for you to get the first meeting. So it’s the philosophy, there’s choosing the Dream 10, there’s ambassador strategy where you make the phone calls. And then when you get there, it’s being willing to have a conversation to listen to both sides and work out because you can’t possibly guess it all right first time as to why they would want to.

Rob Woods:

And actually all of the … everything that they could bring to us. So it’s rather than remotely send a proposal, snowing that in so much of our content, we talk about the value, key thing is to aim for is conversations with the right people, rather than aim for a done deal in a proposal or ask for some money. So that the fourth step I would say is the value of getting the conversations and pursuing not just one conversation, but then a follow up conversation.

Rob Woods:

And then in partnership, negotiating, finding ways to help each other get what both parties want. I think this is too big a subject, which is why we teach, there’s so much depth there that we have a whole six month Corporate Partnerships Mastery program on it. But just for the listeners today, those are four key principles of ways of working that help you increase your ability to win strategic partnerships.

Rob Woods:

Just before we finish today’s interview, Ben, is there any last top line idea that you think might we could bear in mind for if we’re actually, your team have been working this way for years, but just one of those many other things that you think in addition to those four can help someone move in this direction?

Ben Swart:

Yeah. I think crucially with lots of these things to begin with, from the points we’ve just said, there’s some brilliant tactics and you’re right, on the mastery course we help someone think tomorrow, what can I do to get those meetings? But the main thing is shifting the radar so that your … once you’re aware of who you’re going after your brain begins to find more and more ways to get that cup of coffee with them than you ever thought possible.

Ben Swart:

I was talking to someone recently, who realized that a whole part of their charity that spends all day very transactionally talking to businesses actually was talking to five of her top 10. And that whilst they were ending each contract and each conversation with, okay, thanks. And then never talking to them again because that’s part of their job, they weren’t … the relationship building side, it enabled her to see oh, I could get in there. And another one I spoke to recently who said, there’s this company Ben, on my dream 10, they got in touch but the thing that they want, all they want is a team day for 50 people.

Ben Swart:

And we don’t do team days and we don’t do this sort of thing. And so I’m going to email them and say, no, but I’d love blah, blah. I was like, well, if the game is test drives, if the game is getting conversations with them, you begin to notice that there’s little nuggets, and bright spots everywhere that you can turn into a call or a Zoom chat or a coffee. You want to talk about today, I’d love to talk to you. Let’s put a time in to have a Zoom coffee. Oh, I noticed that you’ve done a piece of work with us, my job is to understand the impact that that had on you, can I get a cup of coffee with you?

Ben Swart:

It was really interesting that when you change the focus away from, I must win the partnership to how do I get this person to have, just have a chat with me? How do I help them have a chat with me? You realize that part of it is productivity, but lots of it is you’re aware of suddenly turning the things that are coming your way from bland emails and one way conversations into phone calls and Zoom chats.

Rob Woods:

Fantastic. So, Ben, thank you so much for all these ideas, tips and examples, and to you, the listener, thank you so much for listening and goodbye. Well, I hope this discussion was helpful, as I say, if you’re curious about going deeper and securing training and coaching to help you implement these ideas, at the time of publishing this episode, there are just a couple of places left for our Autumn Corporate Mastery Program. And you can find out more if you go to the services page of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob Woods:

And to see a summary of what we talked about today and the full transcript, you can find that on the blog and podcast page of our website. If you enjoyed the show, remember to hit subscribe today. And if you think this session would help your wider team or your friends in other charities, I’d be ever so grateful if you could share it on so that these ideas help as many charities as possible to get through this crisis.

Rob Woods:

To get in touch or share this episode on social media, Ben and I are both on LinkedIn and on Twitter, Ben is @Benswart and I am @Woods_Rob, we’d love to hear what you think. Finally, thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate the time and effort it takes to keep learning when you’ve got so many other distractions on your plate, and I hope it gave you some ideas and encouragement. Until the next time stay safe and thank you for all your efforts to make a positive difference through your fundraising.