IF A TREE FALLS IN THE FOREST AND NO ONE IS THERE TO HEAR IT, DOES IT MAKE A SOUND…?

‘Business and society’ consultancy C&E published their 2013 Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer last week, giving a sense of the current appetite for, and issues associated with, tie-ups between companies and charities.

The report headlines offer plenty of food for thought, but the points that particularly stood out to us related to the failure of many from both sides of the equation – corporate and NGO alike – to effectively communicate the impact of their partnerships to their internal and external stakeholders.

According to the research, which was conducted among some of the biggest players in both worlds, only 39% of charities rate their organisation as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ at communicating the impact of their partnerships externally, and just 33% place themselves on the same scales in relation to internal communication. Over a third (36%) of companies admitted they are ‘poor’ or ‘below average’ at telling the outside world what they’ve achieved with their charity partners, and 19% said the same of their communications to staff and volunteers.

Considering that corporates told C&E that brand, reputation and employee engagement are the main reasons for partnering with charities in the first place, they have a lot to do to make sure they are getting the most from their investments. And a significant proportion of charities are clearly missing a trick in using the power of household brands to extend their own reach in terms of awareness, fundraising and influence.

Some of the weaknesses in internal communication, on the side of the charities, could be down to a fear that getting into bed with a corporate might anger or alienate some of their staff, members and volunteers. This is a common concern, and an important consideration when weighing up which partnerships are appropriate. But in truth, providing that the partnership is built on a carefully considered, strategically sound decision and you’re not dancing with the devil (at least as far as your own field is concerned), as long as you take the time to explain the rationale to your stakeholders, they will usually see sense and support what you’re trying to do. It is uncertainty and speculation that are most likely to fuel a backlash.

For businesses, perhaps there’s an issue in understanding the ways in which clearly articulating the outcomes and impacts of previous tie-ups can help to secure bigger, better and more fruitful partnerships in the future. Or maybe it’s something to do with a ‘job done, move on’ mentality, particularly where partnerships are built on a time-scale, rather than a joint mission, as can be the case in ‘charity of the year’ agreements, where the time is served, and the focus shifts quickly to the next deal.

Whatever the reasons (and we’d love to hear your thoughts on what they might be!), the research also tells us that both businesses (84%) and charities (96%) expect partnerships to become more important to their organisations in the coming years and both sectors expect to increase investment to match this. So, in a world where three letters – the big ROI – dominate so many meeting hours, shouldn’t the question of how best to communicate the benefits, and thereby pave the way for even greater partnership projects in the future, be at the heart of all the hard work?

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