Engaging Corporations - Some suggestions on how to engage corporations based on stories of network members

How to Engage Corporations

  1. Sustaining the Relationship with the Organisation

    Ideally, partnership is sustained through membership in the association where participation in activities could be monitored and appropriate action taken when participation lags. Two experiences are cited here.

    From the experience of GIFE, having a systematic monitoring scheme for member participation in events promoted by the association is very useful and enables them to act quickly when one identifies "systemic amnesia". In relation to this, having a longterm perspective related to the restructuring of the member should be laid out. (When a corporation has systemic amnesia it takes months, if not years, for it to get properly back to work.)

    Group of Institutes, Foundations and Enterprises (GIFE) – Brazil

    GIFE is the first South American association of grant makers, uniting privately held organisations that fund or operate social, cultural and environmental projects of public interest. GIFE significantly focuses on developing solutions to overcome Brazil’s social inequalities, whereby its strategic objective resides in influencing public policy by means of partnerships and the sharing of ideas, actions and experiences with the State and other civil society organisations. In pursuing this objective, GIFE bases its work on political-institutional strengthening, empowering and supporting strategic initiatives of its members and that of other organisations, especially those of a business nature.

    GIFE has an Institutional Relationship Manager responsible to keep and expand membership in our network. Detailed information on members’ participation in GIFE’s activities (Affinity Groups, Thematic Panels, Congress, political meetings in Brasilia, and so on) is kept by this manager. Yearly we set goals of participation of our members in our activities: it is expected that at least one high ranking staff of each of our members take part in at least one of our activities a year, and that lower ranking personnel also participate in other activities.

    When a member does not participate in any of our activities for some months, we contact the member to see what is happening. Sometimes there are wide changes in staff, the whole group changes, and the new professionals (usually not from the philanthropic field and mainly from the corporation itself) do not have any repertoire on civil society etc. They might not even know what GIFE is and what its use is. This happens more often than we would like, and we refer to it as systemic amnesia.

    To deal with systemic amnesia we usually run the association process routine all over again with the company. This involves an initial meeting with the head of the philanthropy area and, if possible with high ranking staff of the corporation itself, where we present what GIFE is and how can a member benefit from its association, and raise information on the new leading group’s ideas and repertoire on philanthropy issues. A second phase involves actively and personally inviting the new staff to the activities promoted by GIFE that will be helpful for them (usually new members do not know how to chose which activities are interesting for them). The overall goal is to establish a solid trust relationship with the leading people in the institution.

    When we act quickly, the incoming professionals are usually very grateful to GIFE, and it helps to keep the member in our network. When a company has a systemic amnesia, the incoming staff needs to learn very quickly to be effective and show some change to their board or to other people in the workplace (president, CEO etc.). So they find it very helpful to have GIFE give them the basic repertoire on philanthropy and civil society issues, that frequently helps them position the way they will work.

    The experience of FRRR is rich in learnings about sustaining partnerships. For example, when starting out it is important not to rush into a partnership just because of money. There is need to provide training to advisory committees in philanthropic granting. Along the way, also be prepared to pull back from a corporate partnership which is not working or be prepared to say ‘no’ and not pursue a partnership if the fit is not right. It is also important to trust your instincts and value your reputation very highly. Several toolboxes are found in the next section.

    Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) – Australia

    FRRRs mission is to champion the economic and social strength of Australia’s regional, rural and remote communities through partnerships with the private sector, philanthropy and governments. Any planning is to achieve this mission. strategies around growth, position and profile, relationships, and products and focus are all elements of engaging corporations.

    From this planning, FRRR identifies potential national partners who have a strong interest in rural and regional Australia and promotes its range of services to the partner. Our primary focus has been on maintaining strong and deep partnerships rather than going wide and constantly searching for new partnerships.

    FRRR‘s business development activities are primarily the responsibility of the CEO and are mostly relationship-based. The relationships have been developed over the life of the Foundation which started in 2000. Many of FRRR’s corporate partners have emerged through relationships of the Board, Patrons or Staff or through corporations seeking out a partner with good strategic alignment.

    FRRR Corporate Partnerships:

    • 2000-2009 ANZ – a national top 4 bank in Australia, started through high level approaches by Founders and Chairman
    • 2006-2007 Australian Football League (AFL) – national football league – Community Grants program, facilitated by FRRR Director
    • 2006-2009 Australia Post – national postal service – approached by Australia Post Marketing Manager after long term contact at staff level
    • 2006-2007 Dairy Farmers – national dairy cooperative – approached by company who identified FRRR through internet search – Creating Greener Pastures Program
    • 2006, 2008-2009 – Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) – national broadcasting organization partnership with ABC Rural Radio – grew out of relationship at staff level

    The defining moments vary from partnership to partnership but overall what has emerged is the importance of relationships, having champions within corporations, never taking a partnership for granted, ensuring the strategic alignment is real and not contrived, that there is an authenticity in the relationship which can be enduring.

    While our partnerships have been longstanding, we encountered some problems based on misunderstandings, low levels of understanding the needs of each party in the relationship, unrealistic expectations, and legal concerns with compliance and governance.