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How community groups can find small companies to link with

From Cancer Research UK and Tesco to Save the Children and GlaxoSmithKline, there are lots of well-known partnerships between charities and some of the biggest corporates in the country.

However, there are also an increasing number of successful partnerships evolving between charities and community groups and local, smaller businesses. Jan Levy, managing director at Three Hands, which helps link businesses and community organisations, says there are a number of reasons that small companies are becoming increasingly interested in engaging with charities. He says often it is driven by the personal interests of the staff or chief executive at the company, rather than being purely strategic.

“Another big reason is if they are providers to large companies they are often asked what they are doing towards corporate social responsibility,” he says. “It could help them to get more business and also not lose business.”

How can charities go about finding these small companies to link with, and, when they do, how can they build a beneficial relationship?

Identifying small businesses to partner with can be quite hard, says Levy, but he says that one effective way to do so is through an intermediary such as a chamber of commerce or a business connector. “I think smaller charities haveto be determined to see and be seen,” he says. “Make sure you are visible and building a profile.”

Once one is identified, it is important that charities know what they want from the business. “There’s always this tension between having a simple menu of opportunities and the scope for a tailored relationship,” Levy says. “From the beginning, if charities are clear about what a business could do, that is very helpful. For some charities, that can be quite hard to put together.”

Graham Willmington, chief executive of Community Matters, agrees that it is important that charities and communities think carefully about what they need from local businesses before asking them for support. “If you’re going to encourage a local business to help your charity, think about what you could usefully ask them to do,” he says. “There needs to be a proper dialogue between the two to ensure that what’s being offered by the business is what is needed.”

Sometimes these dialogues are helped along by an intermediary. One such organisation is City Action, a volunteering brokerage programme linking City-based businesses with community organisations, run by City of London Corporation. Noa Burger, corporate responsibility project manager, says the broker can act as a “translator” between the two sectors. “If you have access to a broker, it definitely helps,” she says. “You don’t have to cold call. We’re already working with businesses that are open to the idea.”

She says that, once a relationship has been brokered, communication is key, and charities should be creative in how they keep a business interested in the partnership. “The worst thing is when momentum is lost,” she says.

“Businesses are used to having emails responded to within 24 hours. If you can’t do that, be upfront about it and explain why and how quickly you will be able to get back to them.”

Good communication with corporate partners has been vital to the small arts education charity CraftSpace in its long-term relationships with local businesses, according to its director, Deirdre Figueiredo.

She says it is important that staff from local companies they have partnered with continue to visit the project as the partnership progresses. “Where they remain remote and don’t see some of the outcomes it’s hard to keep them engaged,” she says.

She also says that getting beneficiaries to share their stories directly with corporates can help. “When we do that well, that’s when the business stays engaged,” she says. “That’s when they are on the phone to me the next day saying, ‘That was fantastic. What can we do next?'”

One of the charity’s most successful partnerships has been with the local sewing machine company VSM: the relationship began in 2006 and is still working today. Figueiredo says this relationship came about through an introduction from an artist who had worked with the company. “We made an appointment with the managing director and didn’t go with a package. It was an open conversation to find out what we were both interested in and if we shared any objectives,” she says.

She says it is important not to be too prescriptive about what the partnership should entail, but instead have an open conversation. “Businesses like the fact that we can be very flexible,” she says. “It helps if there’s a mutual benefit “It’s never a one-way thing. It’s been about negotiating a relationship and finding out how we can meet their objectives and how they can meet ours.

Taken from: The Guardian

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