ID-10081491Westpac and Mission Australia share one of Australia’s oldest business relationships. They revealed the keys to its longevity to Liz Henderson.

Horses were how people got around in Australia when the relationship of Mission Australia and Westpac was forged over 150 years ago. Fast forward to today, and their involvement together centres around a program which initially engages with inner-Sydney’s homeless community from the four wheels of its eye-catching white and pink painted van – Mission Australia’s Missionbeat Outreach.

Westpac and Mission Australia are now half way through a three-year commitment which saw the bank give a generous $1.305 million to help launch Missionbeat Outreach – bringing its total financial support for the charity’s homeless services to $2.8 million since Westpac’s formal community partnership with Mission Australia  began in 2004.

A perfect pitch

The Missionbeat Outreach program was a high-impact and well-aligned solution to end homelessness that Mission Australia presented to Westpac as their previous three-year arrangement drew to a close.

“Mission Australia decided to engage Westpac on a project to extend the reach and capability of the iconic Sydney service, Missionbeat, which has been serving Sydney’s inner-city homeless community for 35 years, patrolling the streets seeking people in distress and offering them support,” says Elvira Lodewick, Mission Australia’s General Manager, Marketing and Fundraising. “We wanted to deliver a more intensive level of support.”

To put forward the idea for the enhanced program meant connecting the right people at both organisations. “We initially raised the possibility of Westpac supporting this at a meeting with our then-CEO and Westpac’s Institutional Bank,” Lodewick says.

“We pitched that this new funding from Westpac would enable us to provide a more intensive wrap-around support to end the cycle of homelessness and secure permanent housing. As part of the expanded program, we link people to other services to maintain housing, because we know that tackling homelessness is not just about putting a roof over someone’s head; you have to support people to stay there.”

Also part of discussions was the offer of more – and deeper – engagement opportunities to Westpac staff, so the company was leveraging all possible benefits of the relationship, while opening up capabilities and resources of the Westpac Group to Mission Australia.

“We proposed a calendar of events and touch points, and also ways to engage Westpac employees in the work we were doing,” says Lodewick.

Impact and trust sealed deal for Westpac

Asked why Westpac decided to extend its partnership, Siobhan Toohill, Westpac’s Group Head of Sustainability, says: “Mission Australia is not only a valued and long-standing customer, but they are also at the forefront of addressing homelessness in Australia.”

“We were impressed by their approach to creating social change, and how they are measuring the impact of their work, and then using these results to continue to refine their programs,” she adds. “There is also additional alignment with our Institutional Bank, given our commitment to providing investment for social and affordable housing.”

What each side brings to the table

“Mission Australia’s responsibility is to deliver the Missionbeat Outreach program which we outlined in the funding arrangement,” explains Lodewick. “As with all our programs we provide detailed reporting to our donors.”

As for Westpac, on top of its funding commitment it provides fundraising capability and in-kind support through skilled volunteering. This is a win-win for its business, says Toohill.

“Employees have an opportunity to engage with a leading social sector organisation addressing the issue of homelessness,” she points out. “Through the calendar of events there are opportunities for employees to learn about and support Mission Australia’s work through giving their time and skills.”

Activities have included winter clothing and blanket collections across the country, hosting a luncheon for formerly long-term homeless elderly people, creating over 1,000 toiletry care packs and various knowledge-sharing events.   

They are valuing these opportunities for meaningful experiences and providing assistance. “We see strong engagement from our employees around this partnership, evidenced by how quickly our annual fundraising event in support of Mission Australia sells out,” reveals Toohill. “In addition, we match all funds raised by our employees through our Matching Gifts program. Last year this saw close to an additional $68,000 being donated.”

Increasingly both sides are also seeking other ways to learn from each other and leverage each other’s skills. A recent example is Westpac providing white-labelled financial awareness and literacy materials to Mission Australia to use with social housing clients.

Andrew McDonald, General Manager of Corporate and Institutional Banking at Westpac Institutional Bank added, “The shortage of social and affordable housing in Australia is a significant concern in our community. By partnering with Mission Australia we have the opportunity to address one of the most pressing social issues that confronts Australians in need today.”

Measurement key to future

For Westpac, quantifying the true value of the relationship is a growing focus.

“Over the past 18 months, Westpac has been on a journey to become clearer about where we can have the most social impact for communities and how we can best leverage our people’s time and core business skills, as well as our products and services to create positive social impacts,” notes Toohill.

“We have developed a framework and a set of tools to help us make more strategic decisions around our community investments. From 2015 we have been reporting impact against our social impact focus areas as part of annual sustainability reporting.”

“At a broad level, as a bank we’re very much about helping Australians more fully participate in the economy and community – whether it be partnering with Mission Australia to help people at a time of personal crisis, such as homelessness, by helping to create employment pathways for those Australians who have typically encountered barriers to getting a job, or supporting the development of Indigenous organisations through employee secondment.” 

And impact measurement is viewed as a shared role. “We have engaged with community partners, including Mission Australia, along the way as we developed the framework – indeed we learnt much from Mission Australia’s experiences of measuring impact and appreciated the opportunity to collaborate,” she adds. “Supporting our community partners on their measurement journeys is an important part of our role. Measureable impact will certainly be an important element in the future, too, as we continue to build on and refine our partnership.”

It’s a pairing that looks like it has a long road ahead. “We’re excited that the partnership is continuing to grow and deepen and that we’re uncovering more and more areas where we can work together,” says Toohill. “It’s also great we are learning from each other as we each work on measuring our social impact.”

MISSION AUSTRALIA’S TIPS FOR SUSTAINING A CORPORATE PARTNERSHIP

Elvira Lodewick, General Manager, Marketing and Fundraising at Mission Australia, gives her keys to keeping that love alive.

A successful partnership is about mutual understanding; for us it is important that the partner understands and supports the work we do. They also need to understand the needs we have and how they can assist to meet these needs.

For our partners, I think they want a clear understanding of the work we can do together and what the impact of that work is, delivered in a way that can easily be shared to engage their employees and to provide multiple touch points between our organisations.

One of the key strengths of the Westpac partnership is that we have multiple touch points across different levels of the organisation, from our Board and CEO through to program managers. It’s great because there is good engagement of our people with Westpac’s people. This means we are sharing knowledge, developing tools together and fostering a deep sense of improving the lives of others.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

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