Private-voluntary sector partnerships need radical realignment

 

Grace Wyld

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The old model of corporates ‘giving back’ to the community is changing.

Through months of research into corporate-charity partnerships at New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), we have heard charities and corporates alike saying that social change cannot come from one sector alone.

More can be done by the private and voluntary sectors working together. Corporates are no longer seen by charities for their purse strings alone, and charities are not simply seen as a route to better marketing and reputation for big businesses.

We have heard examples of innovative and exciting approaches to partnerships: charities receiving funding from HR budgets (rather than CSR budgets) because they demonstrate the impact a partnership can have on staff development and retention, reducing recruitment costs. Can corporates be a route to delivering a charity’s theory of change through the businesses products and services?

They can certainly be seen as experts to consult on pressing social issues affecting customers of a business. In our upcoming report we pose a number of challenges to the wider sector to encourage more innovative, impact-driven and equal partnerships.

Perfectly aligned or perfectly mismatched?

It can sometimes feel like charities and corporates do not speak the same language. The vast majority of businesses (91%) cite enhancing brand or corporate reputation and credibility as their leading motivation, whilst most charities (92%) state that resource generation is theirs. This tension is inherent and needs to be managed rather than glossed over.

Volunteering is an example of this tension: Charities prefer skilled volunteering on an ongoing basis, but one-off, unskilled volunteering is far more common. Why is there such a mismatch between what charities want and what they get?

For starters, charities are reluctant to push back and explain why the volunteering proposed isn’t in their interest, wanting to keep the corporate happy—particularly if funding is also a possibility.

For instance, a corporate might suggest their staff run CV workshops for young people, but the charity know well that their service users aren’t interested, nor is a CV workshop what they need.

Plus, people envisage their volunteering as hands on, taking them away from their day job. They think they will be putting wellies on and digging a vegetable patch, not sat behind a desk. And yet their biggest added value is likely to be linked to their profession. At the same time, charities have yet to develop a meaningful but desirable alternative to painting walls.

Brokerage can cross boundaries
When talking about two sectors with very different working cultures, perhaps brokerage is the answer. For instance, the New York-based Taproot Foundation draws on its network of corporate volunteers to find the best team to meet a particular charity’s needs.

As a result, partnerships address the priorities of both the corporate and charity and having an external facilitator can really ensure that each partner is on an equal footing.

Partnerships between charities and corporates have potential for social change, but they are set up to fail if they are not built on honesty and equality.

Equal partnerships are better set up for impact. When partners communicate openly, charities find it easier to ask for what they need, and feel less pressure to commit to things outside of their mission for fear of losing funding. And companies can feel more confident that their input is valued and the partnership is achieving social impact.

Whilst corporates often hold power because they provide the funding, charities are the experts on how to effect social change for their cause. It is a tricky balance to strike, but these aspiring and equal partnerships—driven to achieve impact—are starting to happen.

Stay tuned for NPC’s report on strengthening these partnerships, which will showcase a number of examples we can learn from.

Grace Wyld is a Consultant with New Philanthropy Capital (NPC).


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