Remedying the gap between business and charities as partners
More and more employees in the private sector have been involved in charitable giving or providing support to local community initiatives. For the most part, individual members of staff, teams and employers alike feel they have achieved something positive. However, recent research suggests that all may not be what it seems. The research was undertaken to better understand how businesses, charities and community groups work together and it delivers some very interesting results.
The overwhelming majority of people taking part in the research (91%) of those questioned agreed that working with communities can benefit the employees of a business as well as community volunteers, in developing new skills and experience. However, while the majority of businesses felt that their experiences partnering with charities or community groups had been positive, the opposite opinion is held by those same charities and community groups.
It seems there is a mismatch in expectations and needs, and that one partner often doesn’t fully understand what the other is expecting from the relationship.
From the business perspective, many of those interviewed actively supported charities. However, when interviewed, their view was that the relationship was often one-sided, with insufficient feedback from the partner on the way a campaign or initiative was developing and what, precisely the company’s involvement was helping to deliver. This was particularly common where a business was involved with a small local charity or community group.
Businesses also expressed concern that once they had offered financial support there was no cap on their giving. They often felt obliged to continue to provide funding.
Meanwhile, several charities expressed surprise that companies expected them to organise volunteering days for large numbers of staff. The feedback from several charity representatives was that they weren’t purely seeking funding. Provision of specialist skills - such as assistance with management processes, accounting or marketing - is often more useful than pure financial support.
With all this in mind, the following advice is offered to both sides, and first to businesses:
- Don’t automatically expect your chosen charity to organise volunteering days for you. It may not have the resources, the projects or indeed the finances to arrange this.
- Do offer specialist skills. Often, the value of your team’s expertise is greater than money alone. See what the charity is short of, skills-wise, and see how you can match these.
- Do set a limit on time, materials or financial contributions and make this clear to the partner at the outset. Agree what you will, and will not, provide and try to set some ambitions for both your company and the charity partner.
And now to charities; this is what they should be doing:
- Be clear about what you expect and what, if anything, the company partner can expect in return. It may appreciate a monthly update on project progress, stories for its company website or more specific key performance indicators.
- Remember that companies need to make a profit. They may give generously, but their time is money. Basic courtesies such as arriving on time for a meeting are important.
- Consider what you can give back. Often, allowing your business partner to gain a better understanding of local community needs is valuable to its business and its team. Offer to present a brief summary of what your charity has achieved, or why the particular problem that you are addressing exists in society.
Skills based volunteering valued
The research highlighted that although financial donations are important to charities, provision of skills based volunteering is viewed as one of the most valuable aspects of charitable giving.
It also emerged from the research that there is a real need for improved communications between the parties and within organisations themselves. Proposals for eliminating the gap in understanding between businesses and charities, and improving partnering to deliver positive outcomes include local networking and better signposting of the large amount of excellent information that already exists.
A number of barriers to effective collaboration were identified during the research. It became apparent that although both parties really want the relationship to succeed, there were some important gaps in each side’s understanding of the other’s operating procedures.
The research found that most larger charities employ senior staff who have direct experience in working for large corporates. In fact, large charities are likely to have more knowledge of the workings of big business than vice versa. It was also clear that smaller charities frequently don’t appreciate the way businesses operate, such as scheduling, commercial agreements and delivery commitments.
Smaller charities need guidance
Large charities are completely familiar with media and marketing. They understand how to pitch an opportunity to potential business partners in a compelling way, whereas smaller charities often need guidance in basic business skills, both to help them communicate with companies and also to aid in improving their own communications.
There is a widening gap between small local charities and large national charities, in terms of their ability to: attract and retain business support, differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market, achieve access to contacts in potential sponsor businesses and understand what a business wants from a relationship. Access to trained professional fundraisers, marketing staff and business relationship personnel is also frequently an issue for smaller charities.
The flip side is that businesses often don’t appreciate the value which engaging with a charity can bring. These benefits include: improved knowledge of the opportunities and challenges within a local community, better understanding of the local workforce, and access to specialist skills, particularly relating to personnel and HR issues, physical and mental health and wellbeing.
However, it appears that businesses can often treat charities as minority partners, believing that they have little to offer in return for the business’ support.
On a positive note, businesses and charities have similar ideas of what they would like to achieve from collaborating with each other and how they could all benefit. All agree that there are mutual benefits in collaborating with another organisation. Businesses are able to improve their reputation (the most mentioned benefit claimed by businesses during the research), which potentially leads to opportunities such as more work locally.