Hand in hand into the sunset?

A title with more than a whiff of cheddar – I apologise! But the event I went to earlier this week left me feeling as optimistic as the title suggests. I attended the NCVO Corporate Community Involvement Seminar: A Climate for Change? A couple of coporate-charity partnerships presented: Sky and Global Action Plan, followed by WSP and Resources for Autism, and some thoughts from BITC’s Business and the Environment Campaign Director Jim Haywood, all pithily chaired by Dame Julia Cleverdon of BITC.

I found it a fascinating opportunity to observe charities and businesses in the same room and interacting with each other. A really interesting moment arose when the panel of speakers were faced with effectively a complaint from a delegate that it is too hard for individuals/small businesses to lower the carbon footprint of their buildings – too many obstacles in the way, planning etc…

The charity response was ‘yes it is too hard’ and that local government, and big Government should do more to facilitate it.

The business response was that ‘there are loads of initiatives out there’, said with enthusiasm for the potential they could bring.

I’m not commenting on the worth of either answer: I put the two here as an example of differing approaches which really struck me! Given this, can organisations from the two sectors reach out to each other? Work together to tackle issues?

The Collaborative working pages on the NCVO site have loads of information, tips and case studies on collaboration in general so I’m not going to talk too much about that here. But listening to today’s speakers I was inspired by a vision of a positive collaborative future for the sector and private businesses.  

Collaboration is often seen as a response to cuts, so if you view it that way, it should be on the top of your agenda anyway. But as this seminar showed, it is far more than that. Both Sky and WSP spoke about the benefits they, as businesses, had gained from working in collaboration with charities. And it wasn’t just what I’d expected, ‘a feel good factor for staff’ ‘it makes us seem more cuddly and our customers like this’. What really came through was that it Made Good Business sense for them. They found it gave them new routes to market, led to innovation. The link up between GAP and Sky gave them both new skills and culture learning. Win, win all round really.

There was a definite drive in the room for businesses to embed this community interaction in their work, rather than making it ‘lipstick on an ugly pig’ (Dame Julia Cleverdon’s great metaphor!). David Symonds from WSP made the point that if it’s embedded it also won’t be the first thing to be cut. Based on today, there does seem to be a growing desire among businesses to engage with charities. How can you take advantage of that?

Those speaking this morning were advocating greater engagement for their brand and their staff than just giving some money, or even giving half a day here and there. Both sides benefit the most when there is greater investment. I think there is a tendency in some areas of the charity sector to see businesses as evil global corporations driven for profit. This is changing. The sector should make sure it is positioning itself to take advantage of this. Could these partnerships be an effective reponse to the looming Big Society question; an answer to what is a governmental challenge to civil society?

There were also some thoughts on partnership working from BiTC’s Jim Haywood, which I’ll leave you with:

  • Do the contributions complement each other
  • Can we do more together than apart?
  • Can we secure more resource by working together?
  • Will this enhance our reputation? Increase our licence to operate? (for example, GAP are now working with more ‘big corporates’ such as o2 following their Sky partnership)
  • Can we both learn from this?

If you’re interested in finding out more about the speakers I was listening to, see:

WSP’s pages on their working about charity and more on David Symons, the speaker; pages on BiTC and their mayday network and Sky and Global Action Plan’s partnership.

You can also find all the presentations here.

Last updated at 09:29 Thu 01/Jul/10.
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Hi Kathryn glad you enjoyed the seminar and that it has left you feeling positive about the partnerships between corporates and voluntary organisations. A great review but I think the view that "there is a tendency in the charity sector to see businesses as evil global corporations driven for profit." changed a long time ago. I am sure there are still individuals working in the sector that hold this view but most voluntary organisations have a broader perspective and understand the role businesses play and that they can form great partners as well as provide great support on an individual basis either as volunteers or trustees. I heard a great presentation a few years ago from WWF and Shell - initially one might think that WWF would see Shell as evil oil barons but actually they both benefited from the partnership and WWF had more influence from working in partnership than if they had just taken a negative campaigning role.

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