When the first lockdown hit in March 2020 the wave of uncertainty that followed led to many organisations adopting a ‘batten down the hatches’ approach so they could ride out the storm that was coming. This inevitably threw many relationships, including corporate-charity partnerships, into question. As a result, my friends at Remarkable Partnerships spent April-June running free workshops to help breathe belief back into corporate partnerships teams. Their message was clear: if partnerships are purpose-driven, there will always be a place for them. And, with everyone being threatened by the same challenges, the role of partnerships would be more essential than ever – as people recognised the power of the mantra ‘together we can achieve more than we can apart.’
A year on, the ‘ride out the storm’ attitude has been replaced by a ‘more from less’ approach. While these words imply cost cutting, I think it is a more nuanced phrase than that. The 2010 HBR article Roaring out of Recession, described four different approaches to responding to global crises. These approaches are: prevention focused; promotion focused; pragmatic and progressive. And I believe the phrase ‘more from less’ takes on a different meaning depending on which of these approaches your organisation, or your partner, is adopting.
In this blog I am going to focus on the two most polarised approaches – prevention and progressive.
What Can You do with Prevention Focused Partners?
For organisations that are prevention focused, more from less will mean reducing cost and reducing risk. It will also usually mean stopping activities that do not explicitly address the company’s main priorities and goals.
So, if your corporate partnership doesn’t seem to deliver against these priorities or goals it will most likely be cut. Partnerships that feel like nice to do activities, rather than being essential to delivering the purpose, have very little chance of surviving. Persuading them to continue to support the partnership financially is likely to be very hard to do. This is because their defensive attitude is unlikely to be open to new ideas – unless these are seen to substantially reduce risk for the business.
So, my advice is to present what you do as a risk reduction advantage. What business risks can your partnership help to minimise? It could be loss of talent or loss of customer loyalty, for example. However you pivot, make sure you plan for the moment when their priority shifts away from prevention to growth
What Can you do with Progressive Partners?
For organisations that are progressive, more from less will mean delivering more value with less effort. Cutting cost is not the driver. Extracting more sustainable value becomes the focus. To do this progressive companies stay close to their customers and find new ways to satisfy their needs with less effort.
Progressive companies are much more likely to be purpose-driven than prevention-focused organisations. And it is focusing on the Purpose that drives them to take a proactive approach to create a sustainable future when the going gets tough. That doesn’t mean they won’t cut cost. They will if the cost no longer seems to satisfy changing customer needs.
So, my advice to non-profit organizations is to be proactive, as this matches their approach. Show how you can help them forge much closer emotional bonds with their customers because they see sustaining relationships as key to their long-term success. And, if you can help them to innovate, or to be seen as an innovator, this will be valued too.
Of course, the moral of this blog is that focusing on purpose-driven partnerships will deliver sustainable success for both sides of the partnership. In the meantime, I recommend you:
- Assess the behaviour of your partners
- Assign them to one of the two approaches above
- Adapt your approach to be in sync with their new drivers
- Review their priorities regularly and adapt accordingly.
Finally, I see the more from less attitude as a huge opportunity for charity-corporate partnerships because it is forcing organisations to focus on what they really value. By making your charity essential to delivering that value, you will create successful and sustainable relationships.
This guest blog is written by Crispin Manners, who is a communications and leadership expert and author of ‘Grow, build, sell, live.’