Many charities see the advantages of creating strategic, long-term partnerships with companies, as an anti-dote to the many challenges of applying for those intensely competitive Charity of the Year partnerships.
But how do you go about approaching companies where there is a good fit with your charity? And even after you get that first meeting, and they’re interested, how do you solve the challenges in bringing your two organisations on a journey that is genuinely win/win? These things are not easy, but as with most fundraising challenges, they feel less daunting if you can hear from someone who has already done it.
So I was delighted to be able to talk to Pippa Hind-Walsh, a smart and resilient fundraiser in a fairly small charity called Family Fund. In this interview she talks us through the process of approaching and building a fabulous, strategic partnership with McCain Foods, which is worth over one million pounds to the charity.
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You can find out more about the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme, which Pippa took part in, by following this link.
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This episode is taken from a film interview we created for our training and inspiration site, the Bright Spot Members Club. If you’d like to find out more about all the (more than 45) learning bundles and live weekly Masterclasses and Group Coaching in the club, or to try for just a month, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/
Free E-book. If you’d like to know powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out 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
‘This whole process reinforced for me more than ever, the stories are what sell your charity.’
Full transcript of Episode 67
Hey there folks, and welcome to episode 67 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for fundraisers who want ideas and maybe a nudge of inspiration to help you raise more money and enjoy your job, especially during the pandemic. And if you’re a corporate fundraiser or a fundraising leader looking to build strategic, valuable partnerships with companies, then I hope you’re going to find today’s episode really interesting, because today I’m sharing an interview I carried out recently with an excellent corporate fundraiser named Pippa Hind-Walsh, who I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over the last couple of years. She and her colleagues at Family Fund have put together a fabulous valuable partnership with McCain Foods. In the interview, I was keen for you to hear about the journey that Pippa and her colleagues have navigated to build the partnership, including the tactics that she feels have been most helpful and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Pippa Hind-Walsh, welcome to the podcast.
Thanks, Rob. Honored to be here.
Yeah. Thank you so much for making time for this. I know you’re extremely busy at the moment for various reasons, but I so wanted for quite a while to get a chance to talk to you, so that our listeners and our viewers can hear some of the things you’ve been up to in the last two years, especially in terms of corporate partnerships, and here’s some of the interesting lessons you’ve learned. Just before we get into the content, your job title is corporate partnerships manager, and you work for a fairly small charity called Family Fund. Have I got that bit right?
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Great. I met you quite a while ago, you joined Bright Spot Members Club, and then you went on Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme, and it’s been a privilege to have various chats along the way about various things and occasion to touch on this topic. Most of today’s interview, I would like to be about this spectacular partnership that you and your colleagues have worked on over the last couple of years. To start us off, could you tell us top line, what is that partnership and roughly how does it work?
Yeah, of course. Thanks Rob for that introduction. Our new partnership is with McCain Foods. It’s been a couple of years in the making, but you may have seen some of it on your TVs recently, things like that. So it’s a £1 million partnership over three years. That’s a £1 donation from McCain themselves, and with any other employee fundraising and any other public fundraising on top of that as well.
But alongside the incredible monetary donation that they’re giving to us, they are also putting the partnership at the center of their marketing campaign at the moment. So you may have seen the dedicated adverts on TV or heard them on the radio. There’s also been lots of bits and bobs on social media. There’s been an influencer takeover on social media called Teatime Takeover that included celebrities, such as Kimberley Walsh and Gok Wan.
We also have some really, really lovely short animations that focused on family stories of families that we’ve helped over the year. So it was three different stories that were animated and shown on sky TV and voiced by David Walliams, as well as the advert the focusing on the partnership which features six of our families that we’ve helped over the years.
The final piece to that puzzle as well is that you might have seen in the freezers and you might even have in your own freezers is the takeover packs. So McCain have dedicated a number of their product packs to do their partnership with Family Fund. We ran a competition for the families that we had helped for the children to redesign the packaging, and our winner was a lovely young man called Charlie. So you’ll have seen his lovely hand-drawn packs with our logo on.
Well, congratulations to all involved, Pippa, and thanks for getting things started with the top-line shape of the thing. Goodness me, these kinds of things are not sorted within three weeks. I know that in normal times it would have taken a while to put this all together, and I think happening as it did during the pandemic, that can only have slowed it down.
I would love to go on to find out about particular tactics or lessons learned because lots of our listeners are aiming to do really ambitious things in their partnerships. But if they’ve not yet managed to do one, it’s just quite hard to get our heads around if these kinds of conversations are different from what companies are currently saying to them. So I would love to get onto that, but maybe the next thing is, could you give me a top-line timeline for the stages it took to get to the point where you were able to go public with this partnership?
Yeah. So you’re absolutely right, Rob. It was a very long time in the making. So we actually started initial conversations with McCain back in, it must have been spring 2019, the end of spring, beginning of summer 2019, and we finally launched the partnership publicly… Well, we started talking about the partnership in February 2021, with a full launch in April 2021. So long time to get to where we were. The initial conversations took time as well. There was a period in the middle that did get frustrated by COVID as well, but I think a minimum timeframe would have been 18 months anyway, to get to where we were with the launch.
The partnership started with managing to get ourselves an initial meeting with the marketing director of McCain. It wasn’t a Charity of the Year application, it was just us pushing through various connections to be able to get that meeting. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve learned, I’ve bounced into this role very fresh and very enthusiastic, “Oh, we’ll contact companies and they’ll buy into what we do,” but what I’ve definitely learned over the last few years is to use any connections you have is absolutely key in order to get in front of the right people to be able to pull off these kinds of partnerships.
After some persistence, we were very lucky to be invited to a meeting with the marketing director. We really believed in the fit, we’d done a lot of research. Just to put it into context, McCain’s brand for the last few years has been based on their We Are Family slogan. We are Family Fund, a charity that puts families at the heart, our mission is to improve the lives of families raising disabled and seriously ill children. It seemed like the perfect fit really, and we really believed in it, so then it was a case of getting them to believe in the fit.
But absolutely for us, we had lots of very loyal and amazing smaller partnerships. Traditionally, they’d sponsored things like black tie dinners, done their own fundraising events for us, got involved in various things, but this was the biggest scale partnership we had ever gone for. It was part of a strategy refresh internally to be able to diversify our funding, and this was our first big, big chance really to make a mark.
So we got the initial meeting, we prepped for the initial meeting, did lots and lots of research, and it went well. It went very well, but we did come away with some questions. Probably one of the things I learned at that stage was that maybe we went in a little bit too technical and not emotive enough with some of the information that we put across. But after that meeting, they were interested, they could see the fit, but they asked us some questions, they sent us away with some challenges. One of them was about diversity in general, and how important that was to them, and how could we fit into that, as well as some other things around their campaigns and what they wanted to focus on.
So we took all that away and we reworked our concepts, reworked the way that we were approaching the pitch, and I think the biggest change we made at that stage was putting family stories at the heart of the pitch. Time and time again, in your training, Rob, you talk about the importance of stories, and it is so true, and this pitch really, really taught me that, and all the way through, stories are what sell your charity.
So we listened to what they were looking for, and we tried to find appropriate stories. We’re very lucky that the variety of grants that we provide gives us quite a wide scope because we look at all aspects of life and the social model of disability, so we could look at grants that we provided that related more closely to mealtimes and easing pressures for families around that. We also tried to create a visual as well and something tangible to just bring it to life a little bit more. So you talk about some very creative concepts in various podcasts, Rob, and I’m not professing that this was very creative at all, but it was just something, and we have very-
So what was it that you left with them?
So we just had a very, very simple, nicely presented box. I got our design manager to help me out because I am not blessed with creative skills in that way, and we just put together some family stories that were really, really relevant to what they were looking for, on some large cue cards with a picture of the child that we’d helped with their grants, and just a little bit of information about how we’d help them, and how McCain supporting us could help us do more like that. We just left the box with them afterwards. It was funny, later on through the process, as we met more and more senior people throughout McCain, and then we were assigned an account manager, every single one of them said, “Oh, the box landed on my desk,” and it was just something really simple and it wasn’t expensive to do.
So that first meeting, you had researched, then you did your best to listen as well as you could for what they might be looking for, philanthropically and potentially also to do with their brand, and you had prepared some things and you were able to give your view of where the money would go and how it might also be good for their brand. But at that stage, it was really just about what we have in common and how it might be good for each other, rather than anything tactical about what this could turn into in the partnership.
Yeah, absolutely. We did put some concepts forward of what it could maybe look like, but I think we were always keen to be flexible and open-minded. Obviously, there’s an amount of internal managing you have to do around that as well. But we were very aware that they would have their own priorities and their own agenda. We went into this without any kind of brief, so we had to be quite general in our concepts initially and all the way through, help them visualize what it would look like to be our partner.
But we did an enormous amount of research before we went in. We researched their brand, their previous branding, their adverts, tried to really get under their skin and understand them and understand what they were about and what’s important to them. Looked at their previous charity preferences. Although they’d never have a big charity partner before, they’d always been quite active through various customers that they have, corporate customers that they have through their charities and through food waste and things like that.
We also researched their competitors because we were aware we were meeting the marketing director, there’s going to be an element of that’s a problem for him, so what could we learn about their competitors and what they’d done, whether that’s around charity partnerships or other kinds of branding and where they sit. And also, researched who we were meeting, I think is a massive part of it, and just remembering. I think it’s very easy, I remember various times, when we were putting this presentation together, and it’s very, very nerve wracking, and you feel like, “Oh, I just come from this smaller-known charity. These are very clever marketing people. They seem very scary.” But actually, they are just people, and one of the concepts you teach in the mastery course is the jolt analysis, and actually doing that is really useful, and remembering that these people, they have families themselves, a lot of them have kids themselves, so how can you bring that to life in a way that is meaningful for them?
Hey, it’s Rob, and I thought I’d jump in really quickly in case you’d like to get a deeper level of training and coaching support than is possible in these short podcast episodes. If so, a couple of options to think about are firstly, our Bright Spot Members Club, which is our training and inspiration site for fundraisers of all disciplines. Secondly, our mastery programs, which are our three flagship half-year programs in corporate, major gifts, or in individual giving prospectively. But rather than have me explain them, I thought it would be more interesting if you could hear from Pippa about how the club and the Corporate Mastery Programme have helped her.
I’ve been a member of Bright Spot Members Club for a couple of years now, and also attended Rob’s mastery course. It’s been amazingly helpful for me all the way through. I had lots of different things to juggle as I’ve been going, and I was new to the role of a couple of years ago, so having the Members Club and all the resources on the Members Club there to refer to and to help me, and to help my confidence was amazing. It’s been a huge source of support for me. Sometimes fundraising can be a bit of a lonely world, especially if you work for a small fundraising team, you will have different areas of expertise. Having that resource to go to, to give you inspiration and to help you out and to grow your confidence is huge. But also having that community and the chance to meet other amazing fundraisers who are probably going through the same challenges as you, and that you can bounce your ideas off is absolutely key.
If you’d like to hear more about the Bright Spot Members Club, the Corporate Mastery Programme, or any of our other training programs or team days, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services. For now though, back to the interview, as I ask Pippa to explain how she prepared for their second meeting with McCain.
We did a lot of work around what stories we could present to them that really fitted with what they were asking us. We tried to relate that back to some of their branding, and the We Are Family campaign, and mealtimes, just making it a little bit more streamlined for them. The more research we did and the more we altered our concepts, the more we believed in the partnership as well, which I think really, really helped. By the time we went back in, we were like, “This is a vertical partnership. We don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like yet, but this is how we could work together. This is how our brands could look well together. This is some of the scope of things we could do, but absolutely you guys are the experts in this side. Let’s work together. Let’s see where we can get,” basically.
So the second meeting was very much about going back and answering their concerns and the questions that they’d asked, but then also just continuing to inspire and use those stories. Everybody at every stage was just really, really keen to hear the stories. I mentioned it before, but it seemed to really bring it home to them and really make them understand what we’re about. Every time we talked about, “We give this many grants. We answer this many phone calls,” all of this, they were like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”
But it was the stories that really got them and I remember sharing a story that one of our families, she’d done a speech at one of our black tie dinners, and she’d kindly let me read out on her behalf at this workshop, and some of them have got tears in their eyes. I probably didn’t do it anywhere near as justice she did, and she just talked about some of the day-to-day challenges that she has. I think also just bringing it back to reality for people, in terms of what we stand for and the families that we help. This could happen to anybody, and I think bringing that home to people was really, really important, and bringing the concept of how helpful these grants are home to people was really important.
So we did this exercise that was basically, again really simple, that was just a picture of an item that we granted. So either a white good, or a food processor, or an iPad, or something like that, and just said to people, “What is this?” Some people tried to be clever and be like, “Oh, it’s such and such.” Other people were just like, “Well, it’s a blender.” But actually, you’re then telling the child’s story through that of, yes, it’s a blender, but for that child, that was the first time that they’d ever been able to eat the same meal as the rest of the family, because they are on a liquid diet that has to be so fine to be able to go to the tubes, that a standard blender can’t blend to that level. You have to have a very expensive blender to be able to do that, but this family don’t have the money to be able to afford that.
So this blender has actually changed their life because it’s the first time that the child can ever eat the same meal as everybody else that’s not just pre-prepared specialist food. It’s the first time they’ve ever been able to go out for dinner as a family together, and the child be able to pick something off a menu, and all those things that that opens up for families. It was that that really, really hit home, I think for the people that were in front of us.
Pippa, that workshop that you did with various people from both sides sounds like a real step forward in getting closer to what the partnership actually would end up becoming. What happened next and how did you move it along?
Yeah. There were various other meetings after that, lots of different people involved and basically, between McCain and the agencies drew up some concepts of what they ideally would like to do with us to fit this into their brand and their campaign, and was this possible with theirs? What could we do? What couldn’t we do? How could we support that? I think in that workshop I was just talking about, it became very clear quickly that they really wanted to invest everything into this partnership, they wanted to put it at the heart of their marketing campaign. This wasn’t just a sideline, it was a real strategic partnership.
So we had several meetings, several concept meetings, lots of backwards and forwards, obviously at that point, the world started changing. So after a couple of face-to-face meetings, everything then became virtual and over Teams. It was just a case of working together, understanding everybody’s boundaries and possibilities. What could be done? Dreaming big, how could we stretch this? How could we support each other? And went from there really with it. It feels like a lot happened very quickly, but lots of things developed as we went. We went from having an agreed donation and what the partnership would maybe look like, to that growing as we went on, as more and more people bought into what we did and how much of a difference they could make, and how they could help us in terms of not just the money that they were donating, but also by giving our families a platform and shining a light on and heroing our families through their campaign.
Through that, it went from having the takeover packs was the first big thing for us, and we were like, “That’s amazing, the kind of exposure we’re going to get from that.” Then there was talk of the advert, and that’s even more amazing. We would never spend amount of money on marketing. To have the opportunity to have our logo on primetime TV was just incredible for us. Then the concepts continued to develop with the animations and with the social media influencer side of things, and hopefully, there will be more growth throughout the rest of the partnership. This is a partnership for another two years, so there’s lots of scope for further things to do together. It’s a constant partnership, constantly working on things together and understanding each other’s challenges and successes and everything else.
One thing I would observe, and I’ve seen this in every really valuable strategic partnership I’ve studied, which is what you ended up doing was really different from what either of you could possibly have talked about or designed on the first meeting. But what you did manage to do was A, get your foot in the door and have a conversation, B, have that be productive enough for both parties, that the main thing from the start is you could have this sense of commonality. We have common goals, there’s loads of reasons why we should meet again, but somehow you resisted the pressure charities often feel at this point to start talking about money.
I don’t know if on this occasion, your prospective partner asked you, “Well, how much do you want?” I sense they might not have done, but given how often charities can feel under pressure early to put a transactional number on, my view is that’s never going to work because if the end-up partnership is so different from what you think it might be at the start, how can you possibly put a number on it from the start anyway? But what advice would you have for a charity that wants to have, or is having some initial valuable conversations with a partnership that might suit them, but they’re feeling under pressure to commit too early to what it looks like, or especially commit too early to, “How much money are you looking for us to donate?” What would you say?
Yeah, absolutely. That was me two-and-a-bit years ago. We were agonizing over valuing this partnership. What should we value it at? What should we ask for? We don’t want to over ask and scare them away, we don’t want to under ask undervalue ourselves. But I think what we really took away was they bought in to the fit in the same way that we believed in it, and in order for a partnership to be really, really successful it’s about that. You don’t know all the answers. You don’t know their brand inside out, they don’t know our brand inside out. Let’s work together and work out the best way of being as effective as possible.
Remember that it isn’t just about money necessarily. The money is obviously amazing and there’s a lot of pressure around that, but for us, there was also an enormous amount of added value in the marketing that they were offering, that in-kind giving is absolutely a benefit for them because their marketing campaign, it builds their brand, it strengthens their brand of how they want to be perceived. But also, there’s a huge benefit to us as well because it’s something that we wouldn’t be able to do without that partnership. But just remembering that there’s value for both on both sides, and just don’t feel pressured to put a value on it. I think the best partnerships absolutely come through negotiation.
It is a very real risk, isn’t it, if you’re any size of charity, but especially if you’re a smaller charity, a major risk is to not fully comprehend just how valuable we might be to the other party? I think on my courses, people often worry that if they’re not a well-known charity, they won’t be valuable to a company because, “Look, we’ve got a tiny audience. We’ve got no audience to bring to them.” Whereas, as I understand it, for you, McCain weren’t talking to you because of who your audience were, but because of what you represent, the story of the kinds of families you help, not how many you help, or not how many supporters you help. Whereas it’s what you represent. They really wanted to A, help that, but B, they understood that it’s valuable for them to be helping that, and that their customers would be pleased with them and would appreciate that. Therefore, I think that’s a different understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the size of a charity. Have I got that broadly right in your case?
Absolutely. Yeah. In the workshops, we looked at who their target audience is as well, and we talked about, “Oh, we’ve got this many followers on Facebook,” and things like that, but that’s absolutely not what they were interested in. Lots of companies do lots of research about their customers, what their customers care about, their buying habits. We all know about cookies and things like that. They have an idea in their mind of who their target audience is and who their customers are, and who they want to expand to, and they absolutely buy into a concept of, “This is something that will talk to our audience.”
If a company is a family brand, then they’re going to want to partner with something that’s similar that speaks to that family brand side of things, in the same way that if it’s an eco brand, and then they’re going to want to partner with a charity that speaks to their customers in the same way. Yet, that’s absolutely, two years ago, we were like, “Oh, well, our audience is really, really small.” But I think once we realized that actually, it’s not about us, it’s about what we stand for, and it’s about how we can add value to the people that any company wants to target, that’s how we then honed down who we wanted to approach.
Pippa, one of the hardest things is however well the negotiations are going and both parties can see this is really going to happen, it’s going to be great, sooner or later you still need to put a number on it somehow. Do you have any tips for how we might do that?
Yeah. Firstly, dream big. We did a lot of research into other charity partnerships, other big charity partnerships, similar-sized brands and what their partnerships look like. We did come to the number that we thought was maybe dreaming a little bit too big, but at that point, we’d built up the relationship enough to feel a bit more confident to go back with that. You get those insights as you go from them as well, of what they’re trying to achieve.
But we did lots and lots of research, and so what if we had a magic wand, what would we like this partnership to look like? You look at all the big ones out there. Age UK and Cadbury’s, that was a big source of inspiration for us. And just doing that research, doing the research of the various brands and looking at others similar to them within the sector as well, and just starting somewhere that you feel comfortable, but that is definitely dreaming big. There’s no reason that you can’t, as you say in one of your other podcasts, Rob, punch above your weight.
Yeah. Well you’ve clearly done that. In terms of the various challenges that come with this, and there are many aren’t there? And there would be for a larger charity, but especially for a smaller charity, this time frame and how much resource it must have been taking up long before there was money to show for it, to help pay for your services. That’s always a tough thing, isn’t it? For a corporate or a major gifts fundraiser, to be doing all the right things for something that absolutely seems like jam tomorrow, you still got to fill in this quarter’s target and how much you’ve raised. So in terms of that risk and handling those internal conversations or any other of the difficult risks, what would you say you learned?
Yeah. A massive thing for me was just communication. It’s all about communication on both sides, building the relationship with your corporate partner and perhaps your account manager there. I got to a position where I’d got a really great relationship with the account manager, so I could have some honest conversations with her of, “We might find this a challenge, or we might find this aspect of it a challenge, but how can we work together to try and achieve that?”
But selling it in internally as well is a massive effort. This was the biggest partnership we’d ever come across. There’s lots of other risks involved in it, especially when we started talking about putting families really at the heart of the campaign. That was a massive step change in terms of risk internally. We’d always championed family voice and trying to get our families’ voices heard, but it was on a much, much smaller scale than national and TV radio, and influencers, even for me was a big area of, “We need to learn about this. We need to understand the risks. But we also need to be bold,” because a big thing for me is there’s a risk of doing things, but there’s also a risk of not doing things, and you should take those opportunities.
So I just had to be super organized really, and look at trying to listen to people’s concerns, keep the channels of communication open, understand who the key people were that I needed on board. This was a massive team effort. Yes, I’m the only corporate partnerships manager there, but a lot of the work that we did in the buildup to the campaign was family focused. So actually, our communications team were a massive support to me. I couldn’t have done this. They were basically the bridge between McCain and the families, and managing all of that.
They’ve got other pressures that they’ve got to fulfill. Life isn’t just about this partnership and the charity. It was the biggest thing to ever happen to us, but there’s also a lot of other pressures, especially in COVID, there’s lots of other things going on. So just having regular meetings, setting out exactly what we’re talking about, giving people opportunity to raise concerns and ask the questions, and then managing that back. A big thing I learned was a lot of fear and inflexibility around risk in organizations comes from a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding. So actually, if you keep those lines of communication open, then it’s a lot easier to manage those things and be flexible and then achieve something beyond your wildest dreams.
Well, I think it’s a truly brilliant partnership, Pippa, and thank you so much for coming on the podcast to explain about this journey and some lessons we could take from it. I look forward to staying in touch. For now, best of luck with your fundraising and I will catch up with you soon.
Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing Pippa’s stories and insights. If so, we’ve got lots more sessions planned, so please remember to subscribe to the podcast today so that you never miss an episode. If you’d like a full transcript and a summary of today’s episode, go to the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. If you’re interested in improving your skills and confidence in corporate fundraising, please do check out the Corporate Mastery Programme. To find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services, and then click on the page for Corporate Mastery, or indeed the Bright Spot Members Club, or any of our other training options.
Before we finish, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s been spreading the word about this show to colleagues and on social media. I really do appreciate your help in getting this content out there, this year of all years. We’d love to hear what you think about today’s episode, where both on LinkedIn and on Twitter, I am @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today, and I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot examples and ideas with you very soon.