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Creative partnerships

3 min read

At the level of clouds, it is clear that one thing is happening: the world is changing, and our relationship with our work is changing with it. Forever.

The lines between personal and professional lives are not just blurring, they are being erased.

It is not surprising that the real pressure on organisations to move from tokenistic social initiatives to meaningful and authentic social impact is coming from talent as well as from the market. Conversely, shareholders are not just surrendering profit to appease talent and market – the hunt is on for new business models and value creation that serve both. In turn, organisations are investing in unpacking and communicating what they believe in and what authenticity means to them.

Profit and purpose is no longer hearsay. Momentum is growing as people join the lone voices seeking to align their social values with their employment. Just as individuals seek this commercial and community alignment, organisations are seeking the same. However, they don’t have a lot of practice and are largely doing the same old simple dance to get there … and tripping over themselves.

There is an old analogy in the family law business: when a relationship breaks down, people fight over their share of the orange. They could both have 100 per cent of what they wanted if only they knew that one wanted the juice and the other the peel. So how do we get organisations speaking the same language and working together so they both get 100 per cent of what they want?

Shared value

Corporate and NFP partnerships have moved beyond donations and sponsorships to an alignment of interests and resources. Most corporates are looking for brand alignment, talent acquisition, opportunities to engage their employees and ways to use their core products and services as in-kind, rather than simply making donations. Those more advanced on their corporate social responsibility journey are seeking partnerships that run deeper, where true, shared value is created.

NFPs are looking for values alignment, diversified funding and broader audiences with which to raise awareness for their cause. Some also seek to use of the skills or services of corporates to further their social mission.

Community investment, including partnerships, is coming under increased scrutiny in the corporate environment. No longer is it appropriate to simply make cash donations with no strings attached. The investment must, like any other in the business, be accounted for with the value demonstrated. Investors and boards are asking increasingly sophisticated questions about purpose and impact.

Community investment has moved beyond being the right thing to do or being nice to have. It is also moving at speed beyond being an employee engagement tool, and is being linked to reputational risk. Community investment is fast becoming the unchartered territory of innovation and value creation, a land of promise, of purpose and of profit.

Under pressure

In the NFP landscape, financial sustainability is an imperative, and social value measurement is a not just a challenge but a threat. Funders, especially corporates, are asking for increasingly sophisticated reporting, not only accounting for where funding has been spent, but also what the impact of the donation was. With the introduction of a charity regulator in 2013, reporting is also now required by the government. Capability to deliver this type of reporting is still building in the sector. This comes at an unprecedented time of challenge as the sector comes to grips with the pressure for the cultural and organisational transformation needed to survive and thrive in this competitive, commercialised world.

For corporates, community engagement is typically delivered by a small team that must meet the giving and volunteering needs of a large organisation. These managers want to engage partners who can help them deliver on their objectives, but finding the right fit can be challenging and often entails more work than most expect. Corporates are frustrated by the frequent lack of response to their calls for community partners.

Corporate and NFP partnerships have the potential to be greater than the sum their parts, each sector offering the other what they need. New models are waiting to be unearthed and created together.

George Liacos is the Managing Director of social business for Spark Strategy.

This article originally appeared in Third Sector’s March magazine, subscribe here.


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