Five account management lessons from the pandemic

It is now well over a year since the global pandemic began, and the heady days of visiting our corporate partners by train (or plane!) for partnership review meetings is a distant memory.

Over the past year, we have seen a number of charity-corporate partnerships thriving. We have seen a number of others that have struggled. We know that the difference in whether a partnership has grown or shrunk is often down to the work of the partnerships manager. So we’ve put together our five key lessons for thriving partnerships in the pandemic:

Link your partnership to the pandemic

33 million people in the UK have received their first vaccine and lockdown is gradually lifting. However, the pandemic is still the most important topic for business leaders. Right now they’re thinking “what is our recovery plan?”

So it’s vital that your corporate partnership is relevant to the pandemic and that it’s part of their recovery plan. After all, your cause is more urgent right now because of the coronavirus, so what activity can you add to your partnership which is helping meet that greater need?

For example, CHAS (Children’s Hospices Across Scotland) has a partnership with Scottish Gas, which was in danger of dropping of the radar because of the pandemic. Their hospices had to close their doors because of the risk of contamination, so they decided to launch the UK’s first ever virtual children’s hospice. Making this happen was a huge challenge for CHAS, so they approached Scottish Gas to help them build and deliver it. The support from Scottish Gas has been incredible and it has made the partnership even stronger that it was before the pandemic.

Put shared purpose front and centre

During the pandemic we have run over 140 free brainstorm sessions for charities. One of the most important insights from those sessions is that some corporate partnerships have become dormant or faded away over the last twelve months. This could be because the partnerships are mainly philanthropic or transactional in nature, so they don’t feel important to the company right now.

To ensure your partnership always feels important for the company we recommend you put your shared purpose front and centre. The way to identify that shared purpose is find the company’s purpose (it could be their mission) on the internet. Then you put it alongside your charity’s mission and look for the common ground. What is your shared belief, passion or commitment? You should brainstorm this with a colleague and you might need to write down a few different versions before you have end up with a shared person that feels inspiring, punchy and unique to your partnership. If you do that then both the company and your will see your collaboration as a way of achieving your respective missions faster and with greater certainty. And those are the partnerships that last the longest and make the greatest impact.

Strengthen your partnerships temple

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that the partnerships that have survived are the ones that are multi-faceted. The partnerships that rest on a single activity (such as a joint marketing campaign, or employee fundraising) were hard to sustain during lockdowns. Conversely, the partnerships that were already broad and diverse have been able to thrive, adding more layers to their partnership.

We love the “partnership temple” method used by Save the Children to ensure that your partnerships are as strong as possible. In this method, you see your partnership as a temple, held up by pillars of different activity. Your aim as a partnership manager is to add another type of pillar to the temple. For example, if you are already engaging their employees in fundraising activities, you will want to consider how you can activate their customers/clients, or what skilled volunteering work they could take on, as the next step of your partnership. For further clarity, see the diagram below:

Make your partnership activity virtual

With the COVID-19 crisis cancelling all major events and forcing staff to work from home, there has been a predictable rise in virtual engagement activities. No longer it is an item on the corporate teams strategic plan, but in order to engage employees, fundraising and volunteering has needed to go virtual.

Some great examples we have seen from the sector have been:

  • Teach First’s “Shut In, Not Shut Out” webinar series – throughout 2020, Teach First launched their coronavirus proposition that being “shut in” at home shouldn’t “shut out” disadvantaged students from their future.
  • SolarAid’s partnership with Oxford University Press’s delivered a day of virtual team volunteering. The communications team supported SolarAid to deliver creative content for an upcoming virtual fundraising event.
  • Children’s Hospices Across Scotland’s (CHAS) tailored virtual calendars. These calendars replaced the previously planned activities and appealed to the specific audiences in each office – for example ensuring PwC teams were able to engage in a virtual Christmas party, “Merry CHASmas”.

These partnership activities demonstrate how powerful virtual opportunities can be for partnership building and for employee engagement.  Virtual activities will remain, and are an essential tool to your partnership offer in order to raise funds and keep employees engaged in your cause.

Build personal relationships

As corporate partnerships professionals, our role is to build the relationship between our charity and our corporate partners as organisations. However, the pandemic has shown that it is crucial to build and capitalize on individual relationships within organisations too.

Having champions within your corporate partners can be game changing. These relationships will allow you to learn about their problems and priorities. These people will promote your partnership internally. Perhaps most importantly, these people will fight for your partnership activity even in tough times.

As such, it is worth considering what you can do to delight your partners on a personal level. Whether it is sending them a birthday card or remembering the name of their partner, these little touchers can turn a partner into a promoter.

We hope these recommendations have been useful for you to demonstrate that partnership success is possible right now, with the right approach. We also hope these five lessons help you up to think more strategically about your current partnerships, and renew your confidence and excitement for your partnerships today.

If you want to grow and develop your account management skills, check out our account management crash course taking place on the 11th, 13th and 18th May 2021 from 10am-12pm.

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