Powerful corporate partnerships strategies that continue to work during the pandemic

The last 18 months has presented great challenges for corporate fundraisers, so on our Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme we deliberately share and practice strategies that are effective in spite of the chaos that the companies are still experiencing.

One of the inspiring examples I like to share with fundraisers in this Programme is the approach taken by Children’s Hospice South West who have been determined to add value to potential and existing partners, and have been rewarded with great results, including a Business Club which generated £30,000 in just a few months earlier this year.

I was fortunate to interview Paul Courtney, the charities’ Fundraising Director, and in this blog I’d like to outline his charities’ approach since March 2020.

1. Simple, regular events designed to connect

Before the pandemic, Paul and his team had long been proactive in arranging visits for companies to enable existing and potential partners to understand and connect to the difference the charity makes. With this no longer possible, from March 2020 they decided to create a series of bite-sized business breakfast events to create connection for the partners / potential partners, both with the difference the charity makes and with each other.

They tested charging for these sessions but quickly decided to make the sessions all about engaging people, rather than generating income in the short term. To achieve great engagement they wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to attend.

And they discovered that the sweet spot for the length of sessions was under an hour as many of their supporters were incredibly busy with other meetings.

The resulting number of attendees to these events varied each month between 15 and 30 people. But the most important element was to hold them regularly, so that there was always a date coming up when someone could come and experience a ‘test drive’ of being a partner of the hospice, and many companies could build up a strong relationship by attending repeatedly.

2. Help people feel the difference they are (or would be) making

The fundraising team has worked hard to build strong relationships with their colleagues across the charity, and so have been able to invite families who have benefited from the hospice’s services, as well as care staff, to take part in the events. There is nothing more powerful than for a supporter to be able to hear first-hand from someone who has benefited from that support.

Equally, in working with non-fundraising colleagues to create these events, Paul has found that this process further builds trust between the teams in the charities. One reason for this is that colleagues who work in service delivery can in turn feel moved to see the difference that talking about their work makes to supporters. So the sense of connection can be powerful for both parties, not only for the supporters / partners.

Hearing real examples of the difference your money is making to an important cause is very powerful, and this is one reason these events have been so effective.

At one of these bite sized business breakfasts, the father of a boy who had received care at the hospice shared his story. He described their journey from diagnosis, to palliative care, to his son dying in the autumn. He told the group he felt the family probably wouldn’t have made it through without the care and love they’d received from the hospice staff.

A little later at that event, the managing director of one company supporting the hospice was visibly moved. She shared that although initially the company had been a been partnering on a Charity of the Year basis, having heard this example, they had decided that the company would now not move on at the end of the year, it was going to continue to keep raising funds long-term.

The bereaved dad was later invited to tell his story to the whole staff team of that business, giving everyone at the company a sense of the amazing difference their fundraising efforts were making.

Another powerful element of these events is the way companies were inspired by the support shown by other partners. When given the opportunity to say a few words about their company, they tended to instead talk proudly about what they had / would be doing to help the charity. This spontaneous ‘social proof’ is clearly more persuasive to the group than anything the charity could have done to sell the benefits of partnering.

3. Where possible, a series rather than a one hit wonder

I’ve noticed that many charities have trialled virtual events to inspire supporters, but that a common pitfall is to put resources into just one or two big, long events. The downside to this is that there are inevitably lessons that could be learnt to improve the event next time, but there is little appetite to repeat and improve the event, taking advantage of those learnings.

Putting all your eggs in one basket also overlooks the way people build relationships and start to trust a person or organisation over time.

In contrast, these events were only one hour long and they’ve taken place every month. So companies could easily take part several times across the year. Also, the team did not feel the stakes were high in any given event, needing to push for a partnership when the company was still getting to know the charity.

Obviously resources are tight in any charity, and if yours is very small, you may not be able to deliver an event as regularly as each month like this hospice does. But nevertheless, if you’re using real or virtual events to entice companies to want to connect and get to know your charity, one strategy that many fundraisers taking part in our Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme have found to be helpful, is to create a series of relatively simple, shorter events rather than put all your resources into a single one-off event.

4. Building relationships first

Once the events were free to attend, the team did let companies know how they could support financially. For instance, they added a text donation number in the chatbox and they mentioned upcoming fundraising events.

But in due course they did see a way to ask for support at a different level. After informally building and deepening relationships from March 2020 onwards, in December of that year the team decided to launch a Business Club to mark the 30th anniversary of the hospice. The idea was to ask 100 businesses to donate £300 each, which would generate £30,000 in the hospices’ 30th year.

Having built such strong relationships with the regular attendees by this point, they found that before they had even finished explaining how the new Business Club would work, three companies had already pledged in the chat box they wanted to sign up.

By March, the Business Club closed the 2021 cohort having achieved the target of 100 companies. Now plans are already underway to grow and develop the Business Club further for 2022.

Giving clubs for companies or major donors will not suit every charity, but if you are considering this route, Paul advised that charities keep the proposition itself as simple as possible, rather than giving lots of resources to extra benefits of joining. He said “They’re not doing it on a transactional level and the more you worry about that proposition and the various bullet points – a) it’s lots of effort for you, b) you’re making them more likely to think transactionally rather than to focus on the difference they’re making. So my tip would be to keep it simple and not worry about promising loads.”

One key learning Paul took from this experience over the last 18 months was that it was essential for the hospice to just be there for companies and businesses to still engage, whether or not they were ready and able to give or raise funds.

Would you like help growing your corporate fundraising income this year?

The Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme is designed to give you not only lots of powerful strategies (such as the one we’ve explored in this blog), but just as importantly, the support to help you implement these techniques in practice. Our inspiring masterclasses and one to one coaching are designed to help you build momentum and get results. Curious? You can find out more here.