Three lessons from a creative corporate partnership – Homes for Hope and Ikea

One of the most elegant case studies I heard at IFC this year was described by the always-inspiring Rory Green. In 2014 two charities which take care of abandoned dogs teamed up with Ikea Singapore to create the hugely successful Homes for Hope partnership.

A key challenge for the dog shelters is finding new owners to adopt the dogs. One reason it is difficult and expensive to solve this problem is that although the charities have a large following on facebook, most of the people who follow them already have a dog, so don’t need another.

So they created life-size cut-outs of real dogs in the shelters. Ikea incorporated these into their show-room designs, with QR codes so that if, while wandering round Ikea you saw a dog that you wanted to adopt, you could upload the code and get in touch with the charities.


There are fabulous results for both parties – a surge in dogs finding new homes on the one hand, and clear benefits to Ikea. As well as Ikea staff enjoying doing something that feels great, two other commercial benefits spring to mind: even for people who did not adopt the dogs, the cute dog cut-outs will have made for a more enjoyable and surprising shopping experience; and potentially increased sales as some of this cute feel-good factor will have subtly influenced how customers perceived the furniture near the dog image. (Car advertisers have for years used this juxtaposition principle when draping attractive models over their cars).

Note, this fabulous partnership was achieved because the charities focussed on value to solve problems, rather than securing funding for their services. In helping corporate fundraisers to take their results to a new level on the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme, I’ve found that a common initial barrier to success is to focus only on the money.

Should corporate fundraisers be seeking huge value to the charity, as happened in this case, or instead focus on cold hard cash? And even if your answer is the former, in the real world, would your fundraising director agree, given the pressure to hit this year’s budgeted target?

Here are three takes on this issue:

  • Cover both bases. It is unlikely that the only partnerships you pursue will be ones which do not generate cash for this year’s budget. But within your Dream Ten Partners list there should always be some that do directly solve your charity’s problems as in this example, rather than only paying you to solve them.
  • Mission first. Rory’s answer to this challenge was that we should get really clear on what we are employed to do. She recalled a sign on her desk in a previous fundraising role. It read that her job was to 1) End cancer and 2) Raise funds to end cancer. She sought every day to only do activities which in some way contributed to one or both of these objectives. But she was always clear that they were in this order for a reason.
  • Have your cake and eat it. It does raise you money as well – although sometimes not initially. Do you think that those dog shelter charities are now more or less likely to gain access to some other budgets or staff fundraising at Ikea Singapore? The more value the partnership generates and staff trust you, the easier it becomes to expand the partnership or win Charity of the Year opportunities.

What does your charity really need help with?

A major barrier to charities finding creative win-win partnerships like this, is that many fundraisers do not sufficiently understand the challenges faced by the service delivery / programmes side of their charity over the next few years. This access and insight can be hard to find. But you have to seek this understanding because giving the right companies the opportunity to help solve these issues can unlock huge value.

Rory recommends every corporate fundraiser must seek chances to talk to key figures in the Programmes part of their charity. When you meet them, she offers a couple of great questions to ask: ‘What would you do with $1million or $5 million?’ and ‘And what would you do if nothing was holding you back?’

How you process these insights to come up with creative win-win proposals like Homes for Hope, is one of dozens of strategies we share with participants on the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme.