Stop ticking the box and start pushing the needle

Mentioning the term ‘corporate partnership’ really does mean different things to different people.  After recently attending the ‘Corporate Charity Partnerships’ conference held in London it struck me that 3 broad definitions have really started to take shape and, depending on who you are talking to, it really can mean completely different things.

From my personal experience, research and, indeed, the presentations given by peers at the conference, partnerships tend to fall into one of the following broad categories:

  1. ‘Charity of the Year Partner’ – the main driver in this type of partnership is philanthropy. The corporate will donate money, products and time in the form of fundraising events and team challenges.  It is often the first route into partnerships for many companies and, indeed, the first route into volunteering for many employees.
  2. ‘Strategic Partner’ – the main driver is to utilise the skills and resources of the corporate partner to help build the capacity of the charity partner. Still predominantly a one way approach, often with direct monetary donations as part of the mix, but it builds on the capability of the corporate to help deliver a service or support the operations of the charity.
  3. ‘Shared Value Partner’ – the main driver is a shared objective and aligned mission. The corporate and charity partner work together to tackle and solve a social issue through the development of a new product or service.  Both sides benefit and play an equally important role in the development and delivery of the product or service.

The conference itself was a mixture of ‘tick the box’ rhetoric from the still dominant ‘charity of the year’ advocates where corporates select a charity (often via an employee vote) and raise and/or donate money and time (often unskilled volunteering) over the course of a year…through to some truly inspiring talks from corporates and charities who are really ‘pushing the needle’ and forming shared value partnerships to tackle and solve social issues – the Barclays ‘Banking on Change’ partnership with CARE International UK and Plan UK being a fantastic example.

Indeed it was clear from the presentations given that many charities still view corporates as simply a potential source of funds who should open their cash drawers when asked…rather than as a potential partner who could assist them in scaling their current programmes or focus on tackling a specific issue by mobilising the skills, experience and resources at the corporates disposal.

On the flip side, it was clear that many corporates are still very happy to ‘tick the box’ and give themselves a pat on the back when they donate a bit of money or organise a fundraising event, continuing to keep ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ very separate from the core business.

I am not arguing the merits or drawbacks of the above types in this post, I am also not suggesting they are mutually exclusive, that one is superior to the other or that a corporate should progress from 1 to 3 in chronological order (indeed a mixture of all three at any one time might be the best approach).  However, at thirdbridge, we do believe that a move towards more shared value partnerships is long overdue and has the potential to bring about huge societal (and business) benefit in a short timeframe, and at scale.


Blog written by Rick Benfield, CEO of thirdbridge



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