We often presume there is a universe between charities and corporates. That doesn’t have to be true. Here’s how to get on the same planet.

corporates and charitiesWhen you go on a first date, you’re trying to find things in common to talk about. Footy club, favourite food, music, mutual dislike of Justin Bieber; you’re trying to create affinity with your date and find things that you share.

But when charities talk to corporates, it often doesn’t work that way. There’s a presumption that corporates are only interested in commercial things like profit, ROI, products and sales, whereas charities are the ones talking about values, people and emotion. Two different tribes, talking different languages: which often leads to a transactional approach to what should be a deeper relationship. Corporates can feel like their first date just asked them for the size of their house, their salary and a loan of their car. But what if there are not really two tribes – ‘us and them’ – it’s just ‘us’?

Recent research has challenged the traditional view of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It turns out that food, water and shelter are not the most important things for human beings – it’s belonging. As our brains are hard-wired for belonging, we look for ways to identify that we are a welcome part of the group.

So how can we bridge the psychological gap between these two tribes, to make them feel like they’re part of the same group and about to create something fabulous for the community, together?

1. A discovery meeting

This might be the first face-to-face meeting your charity has with a corporate. Sure, you’ve got your elevator pitch and your glossy brochure, but have you really asked the right questions to find out what matters to your corporate prospect? Or have you behaved like the world’s worst date and talked about yourself the whole time? We once worked with a large FMCG company to find a new charity partner. They’d already expressed an interest in education, but deeper questioning revealed their core motivation was to attract a new and younger consumer base. That changed the whole search criteria and opened up a different set of possible partners. Understanding the needs, motivations and values of both parties is crucial to building affinity and connection.

2. Shared goals and impact

Has your charity articulated to a corporate partner what you can achieve together, or have you just talked about what you’re going to do with their money? Creating shared goals means that you’ve both got a foundation for the partnership that will allow you to grow and expand. We created a partnership between an international aid agency and Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Dettol and Glen20. We agreed a partnership goal of improving children’s health by equipping 1,000 community health workers in Nepal. The Reckitt team loved using their sales skills to hit the target, and it certainly gave them a welcome respite from selling Dettol. The shared goals were a unifying force and allowed everyone to share in the success that the partnership achieved.

3. Emotion and participation

There’s no better way of making your partner feel like they belong than getting them to participate in what you do. It breaks down barriers and gets them to experience the joy of creating something meaningful. Don’t expect corporates to write a cheque and just let you get on with the fun stuff, let them into the group. You can invite staff into your events, get them to work on research, let them volunteer in your programs. St Kilda Mums have fantastic connections to their corporate partners as they get groups of them to help recondition the donated prams and equipment. Hearing the stories and knowing that the pram they worked on is going to be in the hands of a struggling parent by the end of the week is a very powerful way to create emotional connection and belonging to the cause.

Corporate partnerships are relationships. If you can learn to talk each other’s language, you have a much higher chance of creating a marriage that endures.

Remember, there is no ‘them’ at all, there’s only ‘us’, and if we work as ‘us’ we can change the world together.


Linda Garnett and Sharon Dann are co-directors of Stellar Partnerships – a strategic fundraising consultancy specialising in corporate partnerships, that offers consulting, coaching and training services. They are also Foundation Members of The Xfactor Collective social impact specialist community. Click here to read more. To learn more from Sharon and Linda, click on the links in the article above or go the ‘THE XCHANGE’ – Australia’s first social changemaker video library.


More articles by Linda and Sharon

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The Real Deal: forming partnerships that last


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