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Year of Charity-Corporate Partnerships
February 1st, 2016
By Martin Houghton-Brown, Chief Executive, Depaul UK
I recently blogged about the attack on public servants in the press. I received a stinging rebuke from one of my closest friends, who works for a multibillion dollar Fortune 500 company on a healthy six-figure salary.
He wanted to know why he, in his work helping to develop the pharmaceutical industry whose drugs cure so many of our ills, was not also a public servant.
I won’t indulge that debate here but it goes a long way to showing how many of our corporate colleagues see themselves as fellow contributors to the public good.
Indeed, in recent years I have had times of feeling more corporate than charity as we are driven by the "market" vision of public sector commissioning.
Either way it should not become a "them and us" world view. Our friends in the "for-profit" sector of course have weighed up the salary return for their effort, but the number of people who have unlimited earning potential who do not face the same decisions as we do are few and far between.
Perhaps it is time to recognise the values may be very similar when it boils down to it and together we want a happy, prosperous and healthy community to live in.
If the charity sector sometimes finds it hard, so does the corporate sector. The economy is lumpy, to say the least, with economic growth slowing, labour shortages and the prospect of interest rate rises and currency devaluation making investment challenging for many companies.
I think 2016 will remain cautious for many companies and thus they will continue traditional forms of giving. I should be surprised to see anything radical.
Expect the continuance of charities of the year and strategic partnerships but also anticipate higher expectations on return on investment, PR, employee value and hard measures for annual reports.
One significant area of difference between our sectors is the corporate commitment to learning and development.
The significant advances in big data, communications technologies and innovative-people approaches are not landing quickly in our sector. Is 2016 the year when corporates provide more pro bono support to help organisational transformation programmes?
I think the rise of the millennial employee is causing companies to increasingly think about how they work with their staff. Employee engagement and reward is big business. They want their people to have a great time volunteering for our sector.
While there will always be a place for the ‘24-Hour Makeover’ style volunteering, we have to be cautious not to provide those opportunities where the skills of the volunteers (have you ever visited a hostel painted by lawyers and accountants?) don’t match the need.
The consequences for the charity and company tend to be a lack of satisfaction all round. No one likes doing a bad job not even if they were patronising in their intent. I think more and more people want innovative volunteering.
The Depaul Box Company - our own mini ‘for profit’ company that retails cardboard box products to consumers and businesses - has been a brilliant way to engage corporate employees.
We recently set PWC employees an Apprentice-style challenge to go to sell our boxes to businesses which use huge quantities.
They had to get the door open, create the pitch and sell.
The net result of this was we were introduced to the largest and most reputable of archive companies, Iron Mountain, and we are about to see the profits come in, which go back to Depaul to help young people experiencing homelessness. Simply brilliant all round! I think more of these kind of initiatives will come to market in 2016.
After KidsCo-gate last year, we as a sector will face extra scrutiny by our corporate colleagues.
Kids Company is a story that keeps on giving to the red tops and the anti-charity press (who knew they even existed three years ago?) as I expect the official reports to be damning in the extreme.
Joe Saxton, NfpSynergy, once said: “The public generally exists in a rosy fog of ignorance, lacking a true understanding of how charities operate. When they see the ways charities work in the modern day, they say, 'Oh, I'm not quite sure I like that'.”
Well, now they know how the less well run of us operate and they like us even less.
What then is our antidote? Not entirely, as Saxton advocates, ever more scrutiny on which proportion of financial expenditure goes to which Charity Commission line items. But the approach adopted by Charity Navigator and advocated by Caroline Feinnes of Giving Evidence is the way we have to respond.
Feinnes advocates “moving away from assessing charities just on their admin percentages towards measures of transparency and effectiveness”.
I think companies will be looking to see how transparent we are in publishing our true numbers of beneficiaries, who our senior teams are and how much they earn, who our trustees are and how well they focus their reporting on the difference we really make.
The corporate sector is filled with people who have talent and capacity and we must see them in 2016 as our allies.
Far more of them need to become our trustees, especially when so many of them are young and forward-thinking and many of our trustee boards could do with a little of that balance.
I interviewed a prospective and very corporate trustee recently, who having been warned off the aforementioned troubled charity some time ago, had found us instead. He was inspiring and full of insights.
We are already privileged to have a great balance of talents on our board and so he shall go on the waiting list.
From good corporate partnerships should come a good flow of trustees, many of whom will stay long beyond any relationship the corporate partners might have with the charity.
There is always the question of conflicts of interest and any board worth their salt manages this transparently and effectively without any trouble at all.
So how should we view our for-profit partners in 2016? They should be our curious, contributing and critical friends. Let us indulge their curiosity, welcome their critique and, above all, bring them inside our many and colourful tents.
Let us make 2016 the year of charity and corporate partnerships!