Two charity workers work on a document together in a corporate building

13 Dec 2023

The power of partnership: Collaborating for greater impact in the charity sector

Collaboration and partnership working in the charity sector have always been important for charities to achieve their goals and make a lasting impact.

In this webinar, we explore the benefits and challenges of working in partnerships whether that’s developing impactful corporate fundraising partnerships or working collaboratively across multiple stakeholders to deliver programmes of work.

Our speakers share best practices and case studies from successful collaborations, and discuss the lessons they've learned from less positive experiences.

Collaboration and partnership working in the charity sector have always been important for charities to achieve their goals and make a lasting impact.

In this webinar, we explore the benefits and challenges of working in partnerships whether that’s developing impactful corporate fundraising partnerships or working collaboratively across multiple stakeholders to deliver programmes of work.

Our speakers share best practices and case studies from successful collaborations, and discuss the lessons they've learned from less positive experiences.

Webinar transcript
  • Expand to read a transcript of the webinar

    Good afternoon. My name is Nicola Toya and I'm the Head of Charities at Investec Wealth and Investment (UK) and I would like to welcome you to our latest charity expert series webinar on charity partnerships and inter-sector collaboration.

    In today's fast changing world, charities are facing new challenges and opportunities that often require a joined-up approach. Collaboration and partnership working in the charity sector have always been important for charities to achieve their goals and make a lasting impact. And in this webinar, we're going to explore the benefits and challenges of working in partnerships and whether that's developing impactful corporate fundraising partnerships or working collaboratively across multiple stakeholders to deliver programmes of work.

    Our speakers are going to share best practise in case studies from successful collaborations as well as discussing lessons learned from less positive experiences. I'm joined today by Eve Mitchell, Head of Partnerships Management at Cancer Research UK and Andrew Walkley, the Director of Services and Partnerships at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

    Now, before I let Eve and Andrew introduce themselves, I just want to go through a couple of housekeeping bits. Firstly, if you've got any technical issues, there is a help button in the bottom right-hand corner. However, if we're unable to solve your problem, the session is being recorded, and we'll be sending out the recording following the session. We also have a chat function, and we'd encourage you to submit questions for this discussion via the Q&A chat facility on screen. We're going to attempt to answer as many of your questions as possible in the hour that we have, and hopefully we'll be able to get to all of them.

    But with that, I'd like to hand over to Eve to introduce herself. Thank you Nicola and hello everyone. Lovely to be here today. Just as a quick introduction of myself - I'm Eve Mitchell. I'm Head of Partnership Management at Cancer Research UK. I have been in the charity sector pretty much my whole career. And I've spent the majority of that time at Cancer Research UK with a little bit of experience working abroad at the Canadian Cancer Society as well. And the majority of my charity experience has been in what I would probably call high value relationships or high value partnerships. So I worked in special events, I've done a bit of time in philanthropy, I've worked on celebrity foundations, sports partnerships and also corporate partnerships. So, just a little bit of information about my role... I oversee the delivery, development and retention of all our national charity fundraising partnerships. So as many as you probably know, our job is to establish a mutually beneficial partnership which delivers both the, partners needs, but also cancer research UK's needs whilst raising vital funds for Cancer Research UK. So when I talk about partnerships and my experience, it largely sits within the fundraising side. However, I guess it's important to flag and probably mention it later that, partnerships really span the whole of cancer research in lots of different forms, which I can talk to a bit later.

    And Andrew over to you. Hi everyone, and thanks Nicola. And thanks for having me here today. I'm Andrew Walkey. I'm the Director of Services and Partnerships at NCVO. That's the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, if you haven't heard of us. I've been at NCVO for 15 years and I started my career in some large household charities, across the country, but spent my first years working in membership at NCVO. We're an organisation with nearly membership body for charities. And two thirds of our members are free. So we have a real support package that wraps around our members, and we're able to support them in that regard. And we've been around for about 100 years. We exist to make people's lives easier in the running of a charity. So many people start charities because it's driven by passion and kind of an emotional connection to the cause. And we want to make sure that we help you do the business side of things sometimes, and support you in in what that might look like as well. So we're here to champion charities and volunteers and everyone that's involved in kind of the civic action that we have in this country. More specifically, my current role at NCVO is working with our practical support team. And so we're on the front line running a help desk for the sector. I call the corporate relationships, the fundraising we do for NCVO, and also kind of that encaptures the wider kind of corporate relationship, but more traditional fundraising approach to trusts and foundations and also our training and, consultancy offering as well. I live down in Cornwall. I'm based down here, and I'm a trustee of the local Cornwall Voluntary sector forum.

    Great, thanks Andrew. So I'm going to open with our first question, which is obviously about the power of partnership. But why would charities think about having partnerships and collaborating with other organisations in the first place?

    I can jump in there. So I think for charities, partnership is so important, whatever forum that comes in or whatever format that comes in. From my perspective, obviously a fundraising perspective, I think the main benefits are being able to reach different audiences and being able to raise funds, ensuring that you've got the brightest and best minds and experts coming together to solve charity purpose and to really maximise opportunities, and sort of support the vital work that all charities are doing because we can't do it alone. I guess from a Cancer Research UK perspective, we really value the concept of partners and partnerships.

    So much so that when we developed our new corporate strategy, we put partners as one of our five pillars to really deliver against our strategy. And for CR UK, we basically view partnerships as the way to have the biggest possible impact. And that, you know, collaboration is critical to everything we do. And as an organisation, we're really trying to increase the scale, breadth and impact of our partnerships both in the UK, but also internationally. And I guess some examples of what that can look like. So, as I said, from my perspective, the importance of partnerships is fundraising core purpose delivery added value. I can go into a bit more detail on those and what they mean, but from a wider perspective, we have partnerships across the whole spectrum of CR UK so, in our policy information and communications team, for example, we work with other health charities. We work with health organisations such as the Obesity Health Alliance or the NHS. And we do this basically to help us deliver all our core purpose and equally on the other side of the spectrum. On our research side, we have something called, Cancer Research Horizons. This is really exciting and an innovative new area of work, which takes our lab to the bedside.

    So it's about translating research into treatments and diagnostics for cancer patients. And it's bridging that gap between research and the market and using partnerships in academia and industry to do that. This is so important because the ultimate end goal of this is the impact for patients. So I think it shows the spectrum of why partnerships are so important to charities, not only to raise the funds, but to actually deliver our core purpose and what we do. I don't know Andrew if you have any further thoughts on that? Yeah, I do. And thanks for that.

    I think it's a really good point for me to springboard off. Partnerships can take so many different forms and for NCVO, as a national body for charities across the country, we end up entering into different types of partnerships and each of them come their benefits and equally they come with their challenges as well. So in my time at NCVO, I've built partnerships with corporates very recently. And hence being here, I've been working with Investec on various bits and pieces to deliver training with individuals and clients of Investec. There's a really unique opportunity in that regard. So we deliver Trustee training, as we see an opportunity to use other people's networks and other people's markets to bring the good stuff. And the great thing that we see is really how important it is to making sure good governance exists across the organisation through the Trustee training. So this kind of partnership is allowing you to really take your mission straight down to people that you may not be able to kind of have a relationship with through other channels.

    Another really good example that I'm sure you have all heard of as a result of the pandemic is that we set up the Civil Society Group. NCVO and our partners in that space were able to lobby and influence and have real impact on the decisions of those that are making decisions. in this country to end up with a £750 million contribution to the sector to help us get through the pandemic and all of those things. So we were able to take a real charge and take a national viewpoint on some of the things that we look to achieve as an organisation. Alongside that, we're also building partnerships for our own sustainability, and to deliver some of the things that we want to achieve as well.

    So we have a bank of trusted suppliers, and these people have services and products that we aren't necessarily able to or not fitted to deliver ourselves. But we can build a relationship with them in order, then to take those products or services to the charity sector and really build on our experience and make sure that we build a really collaborative and comprehensive understanding of how those services can be tuned and built for those potential clients as well. Just alongside that, we also offer practical support to the sector. And we're delivering webinars on a monthly basis, and we don't have all of the expertise in house.

    So we look to work with our partners and our networks to deliver the most important things that we know the sector needs in that moment in time. And we're able to really harness those relationships. And I think that being around for 100 years really allows us to be well established and have a good footprint in what it means to be able to build those kind of conversations with people and also sometimes developing products or evolving with from things that can come from those moments in time where you look to respond to the emerging needs that we see coming through our various bits of insight from across the sector.

    Fantastic. Andrew and sounds like NCVO are doing a lot. We've just had a question come in on the chat and it's a question I was going to ask as well, which is: "What makes a good partnership?" And on top of that, "What's the secret of creating and managing a lasting multiyear partnership?"

    I'm happy to jump in on that one Eve. I think if you were to ask people "What makes a good partnership?", it would be really about making sure that it's strong and robust, and they are the things that really take place in the early stages of the relationship. And I think that's really an important thing to take into consideration. Put the time in to build the relationships with those people. You will need to make sure that you've got shared values and shared opinions on your approaches, and you've got a vision and a direction of travel. But actually, as the conversations and the relationship starts to form, you really want to make sure that you're building those relationships and a level of trust with those that you've managed to find that magic sweet spot that you're able to work together, which meets your charitable objectives and in a corporate instance, might meet their wider ESG or CSR objectives as well.

    So to make sure you're travelling in the right direction, it’s really important, at the early stages, to have the hard conversations, I think, because inevitably those conversations are going to happen. And I think it's really important that you have those really early on and that you put some framework around it. So you have some principles with what it means to work jointly. So if it's a corporate partnership, you may have a formal contract in place with a clear set of deliverables. But if it's a more informal one, you might have just a working agreement or an MOU. But making sure that you understand roles and responsibilities of who's going to possibly lead on the partnership or who's going to do certain aspects or elements of the partnership, I think are really fundamental because they're the things that can fall apart later.

    Down the line, I think the other kind of thing I would draw out here is communication and actually really drawing on the communication channels and making sure that that's established and that you're able to build the relationship I talked about earlier. You have those moments in time and you can touch on those and kind of lean on the framework that you might have to have a kind of conversation with those around the organisation and actually weaving in amongst the organisation beyond your just individual account manager or whoever it may be. So they're the kind of things I'd probably draw out in the first instance. But I'll pass on to Eve, if she wants to elaborate any further.

    Thanks, Andrew. Yeah, I mean everything that Andrew said I completely agree with, and I'll just builds on some of it. So whenever I'm looking at a partnership, we always want to make sure that it's mutually beneficial. So how do we ensure that the needs of the charity are obviously being met? But also what needs are we meeting for the partner and how do we ensure that we we achieve that together? I always think of it like a Venn diagram. So you've got what you're doing separately. And what's that? Like Andrew said, that sweet spot together that you can really make an impact on, similar to what Andrew said.

    I think from the offset, you really need clear parameters that you're working to. So KPIs, roles and responsibilities, clear channels of communication, and clear escalation processes as well. So really, the governance that goes around a partnership, so everybody knows what they're working to and how they're working to that. I guess some things that probably feel really obvious, but I just think are always important to keep in the back of your mind. Things like it's got to be really mutually respectful. You always want to make sure that you are in partnership, that one party isn't a service provider to the other and that you're really trying to build something together. Ensuring you've got that open, honest communication. As Andrew said, you're going to have difficult conversations - it's inevitable. Partnerships are always going to have their challenges, so it's really about establishing that form of communication so that you can have those conversations easily and freely.

    And also, you've got to make sure that both parties really want to be there and really want to deliver against the ambition that you have together. And I think thinking about the second part of that question, so looking at "How do you kind of make long lasting partnerships?", there's a couple of things that I would think about.

    So first of all, with any partnership, it's got to evolve, so I would recommend that you look at how you can make a partnership multifaceted so you might start in one place. But then you evolve that relationship. You look at how the partner grows, how we're developing as an organisation as a charity, and look at where there are new ways to work together. Equally as you're doing that, you need to be able to demonstrate impact. So you need to talk about what are we doing together as a partnership. Why does that have value not only for the organisation, maybe their employees maybe their customers, maybe society as a whole, but also the impact that that's having, for the charity and your purpose, and then looking at how you can deepen relationships.

    So I'm sure everyone's heard the term 'stewardship'. But looking at how you can really deepen relationships with a partner at all different levels to make sure that you're really embedded into each other's organisation. I almost think of it as you want a really sticky relationship where you're so intertwined and your purposes are so intertwined that you almost can't imagine not working together because you deliver so much for them as an organisation. But they equally deliver so much for you as a charity.

    Brilliant Eve. And I think that on that last point around, finding a partner that aligns to your own purpose is really important. So to my next question, then, "How can you identify those potential partners and collaborators?" So it sounds really simple in principle.

    Yeah, I can jump in and speak a bit to that. So I think when you're looking for partners to work with, whether that is from a fundraising perspective or from what I would call 'core purpose delivery' perspective, I think the thing you really have to understand is what is it that you're trying to achieve as an organisation? So what's your strategy? How does your team or department deliver against that strategy? And what does that mean from a partnerships perspective? From a fundraising perspective, is it looking at sectors that are relevant to what you do as an organisation?

    So for Cancer Research UK, you could maybe say something like health might be relevant. Equally, what type of partnership are you trying to evolve? So if you're trying to look at a 'Charity of the Year' partnership, for example, there are only so many of them that exist within the UK. So it's looking at that that list and then figuring out what are the relevant sectors? Where might we feel relevant to them? How do we align with their ESG priorities? The fairly obvious things I would say there, and then I would look at those organisations. So once you've got a bit of a view of who you might want to look at, you then need to look at them and what they want to achieve and whether we as an organisation, align with that. And that involves looking at what they're trying to achieve from an ESG perspective, looking at who they've worked with in the past, what their strategy has been in the past, what they do that maybe we need support with. So what are our gaps and what are the things that they could bring to the table and deliver for a partnership?

    So it's really about understanding what you as an organisation need, what that looks like in terms of a list of, who you might want to go to and then really distilling what those organisations deliver, need and can do and seeing if those things match up. Andrew, I don't know if you have more thoughts than that? Yes, just a few comments to build on. I think I think it's really good to go back to your organisational values and really use them as your foundation and your kind of guiding light in many respects to make decisions. So I guess you can end up in quite exciting conversations.

    But you want to really make sure that you're aligning yourselves with organisations or companies or corporates that are aligned in their ways of working. And it feels like the right way of working. I think if you find an organisation or you happen to find someone in some of the ways that Eve's just mentioned, how do you then share how you want to work with those partners and what that looks like?

    I also think that it's really good to just make sure that you're really clear on your drivers about why you're trying to find and build a partnership. So, is there is there a societal need to be addressed that you can't do by yourself and you want to create a consortium with other organisations? Or is it that you there's a certain policy approach that needs to be influenced or taken? And that means that working with other charities might really add value in that space. Or is it a funding pressure? Which means that you actually need to look at that stuff. So they're the things that I would add on top, just to really go back on what's driving the conversation from your perspective - use your values as your guiding light. And make sure that you can stay on top of what that looks like. Thank you, Nicola.

    Great, thank you both. We just had a quick question asking to clarify what ESG is. That's environmental, social and governance factors. So apologies for using acronyms. I think we've had a couple of questions around this. These topics, and actually the next two are almost at the opposite end of the spectrum. So I'm going to try and do them together! So the first one is drawing on your experiences. "Approximately how long does it usually take from initial partnership connections to significant fundraising for charity activities?" But then, at the other end of the spectrum, we've also been asked "How do you measure the value of a partnership that may be wholly based on pro bono work and doesn't lead to fund raising and donations?" How do you recognise this? Ok, quite a lot to unpack I think across both of those questions. I don't know who wants to go first?

    I'm happy to jump in, in the first instance. And I might ask you to repeat the second part of that Nicola, it would be good to clarify. In terms of how long to build relationships, I think that that really, depends on the kind of partnership that you're looking to build. I think it's fair to say that corporate partnerships are hard. They take a lot of time. You need to put a lot of thought into kind of getting to a good place with them. And you have to continue to maintain that relationship with them along the way. As Eve mentioned earlier, they evolve and they develop.

    So you may be in the early stages of what is the 'minimum viable version' of a partnership, but actually become something greater over a greater length of time. Whereas if you are looking to do some cross collaborative work within the sector, and I think this is where really lean into, then it can be different. Such as when a central government contract has come up or something from DCMS. And actually, you know that actually building a network or a partnership amongst other charities to be able to respond to that funding opportunity is the thing that you need to do, and therefore you have to respond very quickly.

    I've been in situations where we've had to mobilise very quickly, work with our networks to help others find those partners or actually be a partner ourselves, or decide to go for something or not. So I think sometimes it can very much vary on what it is. The driver is that I mentioned earlier, and then, how can you the type of partnership that you're looking to build help as well. Then on the second point, Nicola, please just remind me of that question? "How do you measure the value of a partnership that may be wholly based on pro bono work and isn't straightforward fundraising donations?" So I guess you can start to look at, now I did have some thoughts on that one. Sorry, I've lost my train of thought!

    Eve, do you want to pick up on that one? Sure, so it's measuring the impact of pro bono partnerships. Is that the question? Yes. So I would say, with a pro bono partnership, it will really vary how you're doing it. But obviously, the value of pro bono partnerships is it's a massive cost saving to an organisation. And as a charity, you know, the main thing we're always looking towards is how do we maximise contribution? And how do we make sure that the most amount of money goes towards the actual cause.

    So I think with pro bono, I would take the approach, and generally we do take the approach, that you want to understand what the retail value is or the face value is of whatever activity that you're receiving pro bono. Then be able to quantify that against how much pro bono support you've received. And then you can talk about impact based on that. So what you could say is, let's say it's a legal firm, you've done X number of hours. Those hours are worth Y amount that has saved the charity Z amount, which means we've been able to put that money towards research and then talk about what that research has achieved and what you have been able to do with the funds. And it's really about being able to just express the value of reducing our costs. Because as a charity, you'll be fully aware we we're always trying to reduce our costs and look at how we can do things and achieve a better ROI. So I think it's just putting it in within those parameters.

    Great, thank you. Right, just moving on to a slightly different track, “What are the biggest trends you're seeing emerging in partnerships at the moment?"

    I can jump in here quickly. So this isn't so much a trend, I would say it's just how I think, partnerships are evolving specifically from my perspective, fundraising partnerships. My sense at the moment with partnerships is, that as much as any kind of sponsorship or licencing or straight fundraising (such as Charity of the Year or something like that), as much as those partnerships have absolutely incredible value for our partners and for us as charities, there is a much greater shift with partners wanting to be able to work with charities in a way where they are contributing and quite literally to the work we're doing. So they want to be able to see that they are almost enabling us not just through funds, but enabling us through their purpose, their business, what their experts do to deliver our core purpose.

    So a good example of this to bring it to life would be our partnership with Fujitsu, for example. And part of that partnership is that they are supporting us with a piece of research. So they're using a bit of their technology to help actually deliver a piece of our research. And the reason that's so valuable is because that piece of technology has helped us to speed up the piece of research, be more precise in the research we're doing and deliver it more quickly with hopefully better results. So they're taking what they do as a business, this piece of technology existed and they're gifting it to us so that we can do our research better. And that is the kind of thing where they, they are using their capabilities to deliver our strategic priorities and our actual core purpose, our business.

    And I think there's much more of a want from partners to do that kind of thing because they want to be able to show that they're making real impact and actually delivering impact through their core business. Not just saying "I fundraised for them and they funded X, Y and Z." That is still massively important, and I don't ever want to underestimate or undervalue that, but that's a shift I'm seeing. More and more partners want to be able to really show that strategic link between themselves and us and what we're achieving together as impact. Andrew, do you have any more thoughts on that?

    Yeah, I think just to add a few points, we've got a similar relationship where we've got a kind of skills-based support coming from organisations such as Capco, which is coming in and helping us with some of our kind of processes and how that exists and works within NCVO. One of our longer standing relationships we have is with a Zurich insurance. And it's really interesting. We have all those things that we've talked about in terms of good communication channels, and meeting up with them regularly. And what we do is we share lots of different perspectives on the world view and what it means for us as a national organisation to be wanting to consider because they're able to have various conversations or bring various bits of information to what we're trying to achieve collectively and individually.

    So I think it's really interesting from the insights that they're able to bring that expertise to the table. And then alongside that, we're able to share the best practises. Insurance is really interesting because it involves the things that are happening in the world around us, as they're having to measure risk. So actually, there's something really interesting about all those kind of insights being able to come to the table and then look at how we take that to the sector in a way that means it makes sense to people. So quite often different language and different communication challenges that exist in different sectors we're able to be a bridge between those organisations. And that's when the partnership really starts to blossom in that respect.

    So definitely that's the purpose driven approach to the work that they're doing, and then embedding that in the partnerships they're looking to build, has really shone through as opposed to saying "Here's a bunch of deliverables and we will go and just move on them and then take it from there." We hold a series of Chief Executive round tables and they've become a really safe space for organisations and people to share what they want to talk about in the risk sphere. And actually, that's starting to evolve and develop as well. And essentially, they're sharing their expertise with a group of people alongside the wider relationship they have with NCVO. Thanks, Nicola.

    Great, and just another question from the audience, "When maintaining the profile of your charity with key stakeholders, what are the benefits of public versus private or silent partnerships?" Andrew, I'm going to let you handle that one first. Is there a difference?

    I think there is a difference because I'm trying to think of instances where you would have more quiet relationships, which may be partnerships for strategic reasons, but I guess in the sector that we live and work in, transparency is kind of one of the key principles and ethical stances of the sector is that the more transparent you are, the more able you are to build relationships with people. But there may be instances where you may have back-channel conversations because you're trying to influence a particular policy angle, for example, so you may have a number of stakeholders or partners that can take that policy angle and speak to various people in different ways.

    But I think at the same time, you probably want to consider the reputational risks. And what you don't want to do is build a relationship with the corporate quietly, which actually has a whole bunch of other kind of risks that are associated with it. So I think that certainly in the corporate space, in the cross sectoral space, I would expect those relationships and those partnerships to be not necessarily told to the world. But you wouldn't be making a conscious effort to keep them withdrawn or out of public eye or out of scrutiny in that regard. I'm not sure if you've got anything more to add to that Eve?

    Yeah, I would agree with that. And I would say that generally, to Andrew's point, you might have partnerships that are not a secret in any way, but they're just quieter because they're more around service delivery and what you're doing as an organisation. I think when you're looking at any kind of fundraising partnership, any kind of, brand or campaign influencing partnership, you would definitely want to make sure that that was public. I think to Andrew's other point, you don't want to ever be seen to be keeping anything secret. It's not an ethical approach, I would say for a charity.

    And in reality, if you feel that you wouldn't want a partnership to be known publicly, that probably does beg the question of whether you should be working together more generally. But I think you can introduce a system that allows you to take those decisions as a cross charity, in a cross-charity way. So if there's a partnership that maybe feels a little bit more controversial, take that to a board of people that sit across the organisation and have different perspectives to discuss the pros and cons. Sometimes you need to take risks with partnerships, and I think there is also definite value in that I think the charity sector is probably quite notorious for being risk averse, but for obvious reasons. So there is value in sometimes taking a risk on a partnership. But I would say that if you want to be in partnership with an organisation and especially from a fundraising perspective, you definitely want to have that in the public sphere.

    Fantastic, and sorry, that question was more difficult than I thought it was. Hopefully, the next one is a little bit easier. "With just a number of partnerships a charity can manage at any one time, is there a perfect number? Can you have too many?" Ok, so what's the optimum?

    I can jump in first. I think it really depends on the size of your charity, to be honest, and also again, the spectrum of what kind of partnerships you're talking about. So in in a corporate fundraising team, where I sit, it would depend on how many people you have in your team, what's your capacity to deliver, and the products or activities for those partners So when you're going to a partner, you might want to offer them to be involved with a certain fundraising activity or have certain funding restrictions, for example. Or to be involved in that core purpose delivery that I spoke about, where they're helping to deliver your activity. You only want to take on as many partners as you can to actually deliver against those objectives with them.

    However, I think that where there's a will, there's a way, and I would always want to take the approach that we wouldn't turn down a partnership if we felt there was really good value. We just need to find the opportunity that we can deliver together and then look at how we deliver that from a charity perspective. As I said, for Cancer Research UK, we have partnerships across the full spectrum of what we do. So I would say we probably have a lot of partnerships, but they all serve slightly different purposes and are looked after in slightly different ways.

    So I think it's about knowing what your organisation needs, and what is needed for those different types of partnerships, and then from a fundraising perspective, just ensuring that for the amount of partners that you have on board that you can actually deliver against what you need to achieve with that partner to make it impactful for them and for you as an organisation.

    Yeah, I'd love to pick up on and build on those points and completely agree with you there Eve. I think there's a balance when it comes to the number of partnerships because, actually, if you've got something that's evolving and developing, you can find yourself in a position where you're having too many partnerships to manage. So it's about how do you get the balance right to resource those as well. Because there's always a question around whether you go and do the thing and then get the resource, or do you pull the resource in and then do the thing - and in this instance, the thing being the partnerships.

    So I think there's a real kind of conversation that you have to take at an organisational level around the risk you want to take to resource for the management of those partnerships. I've been in this situation where we've had far too many partnerships and I've had to kind of actually draw back on that because strategically, it wasn't a priority to try and maintain so many relationships when actually, it wasn't hitting all of our core areas or the areas that we knew that our members and the sector most needed. So we're in a position where we need to kind of build partnerships that work for NCVO but also work for the wider world in terms of the members that we're looking to support.

    So there's some really interesting conversations to have with yourself in some regards about how do you facilitate or how do you resource them? And what's your account management model? And what does that look like? And some accounts may take many more hours than another one. So I think there's lots to consider there, and then also, if you find that you're reaching a point that it's unmanageable, you have to have some really difficult prioritisation conversations around what that might look like, and what's having the biggest impact on the things that you're wanting to achieve through your partnership's approach or strategy. As an add, I'd be thrilled if I had too many fundraising partnerships that I didn't know how to manage them!

    Great, I think that's a really good point. We spend a lot of time on the positives of charity partnerships, but do either of you have any examples of where a partnership hasn't worked? And if so, why? And what were the lessons that were learned?

    I'm happy to jump in on that one. Yes I do, and I kind of alluded to it there, as I think that some of that was where we had a model that allowed for natural churn, in terms of those relationships. But there have been some difficult conversations with partners throughout the years where the way of working started to be misaligned with the original intent. And what I mean by that is we start with due diligence. We make sure that we have a code of conduct that our partners work by, and that we're able to hold them to account on, including annual reviews against those established frameworks. But as time goes by and personnel change and things like that, things can start to change and move in directions that haven't necessarily been in a way that you'd want them to be.

    And that's when you draw straight back to the conversation around your values as an organisation and your beneficiaries and what it means for you as an organisation, and the reputational need to continue that relationship. And sometimes these can happen quite a lot that they're kind of almost closed conversations within your organisation about how is this working out. And you start to make sure you've got some good frameworks and processes like logging complaints, for example, or logging inquiries or concerns from stakeholders about that particular partnership. And then you need to recognise when the red flag is - something that needs to be raised because you need to have some conversations with them. And I think part of it is going through a process.

    So I think you start to have the conversations with them about the things that you would expect to see transparency on and you might expect from the relationship or, where you feel like the their part of the partnership isn't being delivered in the way that's been agreed and the ways of working are off, and then ultimately, you end up with that really tricky conversation where you're stepping away from a partnership. And in some instances, I've stepped away from them that's meant a financial implication. And that's a really hard thing to have to do when you're having to step away, knowing that there's going to be a drop in income, which you've relied on because you've set it in and that was going to give you some of your sustainability. But you know, in the longer term, more strategic plan, this is actually going to be the right decision.

    So it's certainly a hard thing to do but I think if you've got your frameworks in place, you've got clear KPIs that we mentioned earlier on, and you're able to have the conversations, that gives you the mechanism to start the conversation about either winding up the relationship or, can you start to resolve it and take measures to fix what's started to break. But I think it's getting in there early, because if you don't get in there early, then the conversation is only a lot, lot harder later down the line. So the minute you start to recognise it, try and put your arms around it. I would suggest to own it as early as possible.

    I guess the only thing I would add - although I think Andrew's really hit the nail on the head there - is to reference something Andrew said earlier, which is that you can sometimes get very excited about partnerships when they come in and the prospect of what you can achieve together. Everyone comes in very ambitious and excited to be working together. And I think sometimes that ambition and excitement doesn't necessarily reflect the reality of what you can do and achieve together. And I've had circumstances or examples where an opportunity has been established, everyone feels that there's great opportunity and everyone really wants to achieve that together.

    But when you get down to the nuts and bolts of how you actually deliver the partnership or deliver the level of ambition, whether that is from a financial perspective or from a core purpose delivery perspective, the realities of what you can actually achieve together, can be quite different. And it's really, to Andrew's point, important to be able to recognise that. Accept that maybe we all got a bit excited to begin with and either pare it down to where you can deliver to what you can deliver or make the decision that actually it's not really viable. And it is a hard thing to do, and you have to make difficult decisions and be brave with those decisions, especially, as Andrew said, if there's a financial implication but also going back to what we're saying about communication. Just being really clear about that with a partner and why it's happened and how you've got to this position. So it doesn't happen again. But it's just being really aware of your partnerships. And really clear on what it is you're trying to do together. And if you're not heading in that direction, have the conversation.

    Great, and I think you may have just both answered my next question as well, which is from an audience member. But I'm going to double check, which is "Is there a danger you can spend too much time nurturing partnerships that go nowhere?"

    I can jump in quickly. Yes, definitely. But I would say that I think you always need to think about potential. And I think you do need to always keep that in the back of your mind. And I would say that some of the best partnerships I have ever worked on have grown over time, and evolved over time. So you do need to have patience with that. But as we said, you need to have those clear milestone checks and communication around what it is you're trying to do and if you're achieving it and if it's even possible and the difficult fallout questions to ask if you feel that it's not possible. But it's about being clear from the get-go about what you're all trying to achieve together and also acknowledging if you're not achieving it.

    I would just fall back on those principles in the first instance. Is it ticking all the right boxes for you as an organisation, and how does how does that look for you? And I absolutely agree that there's so much potential in a relationship. And if you've finding that you've found the sweet spot but that everything else around it is quite tricky, then working towards that sweet spot is really, really important. And that can take a lot of time and a lot of commitment. And I guess also the previous conversation about the number of relationships you can nurture, it's often a balance because if you have a number of opportunities coming up, and you're finding yourselves in that situation, you need to have prioritised. How often do we have a list of 20 things, and actually, we haven't prioritised them. We've just got a list of 20 things. And you can't do that with your partnerships. You've got to recognise which ones have the most potential.

    But I agree about nurturing, and I've certainly had some partnerships that started out as kind of quite small nuggets and now they're turning into really amazing things that are hitting the mark for our members in the sector more broadly in a way that we only hoped. And sometimes there's a question around what's your risk appetite for something new. And how do you make sure that you've got that appetite to try it? I think it’s really important.

    Thanks both. Changing tack slightly, because I'm conscious of time, we've had a couple of questions around what the best legal form for a partnership is. I can start on that. It really depends on what kind of partnership you have. So we would either have a Working Together Agreement (a WTA) or a Commercial Partnership Agreement (a CPA). Gosh, I had to remind myself what the acronym meant! And essentially, it depends on what kind of partnership it is. So if there is a commercial element where there is licencing sponsorship, any kind of brand used potentially with a financial value attached to it, then that would need a CPA. Similarly, for something that's more focused around employee fundraising, soft brand use, I would go for a WTA. Every charity does this slightly differently. And it all depends on your legal support and advice they give on your partnerships.

    But generally, every partnership I would work on would have either a CPA, a WTA or both. If I take the more informal approach that you might have in building a partnership, so if there's some cross collaboration happening or something similar, then you might just take an MOU approach. So there are certainly instances where an MOU might be the right level of commitment from both organisations. Now, obviously, if there are finances in there, and it's a funded project, then you need have to have clear contracts in place amongst the parties. But then in that those instances you're more likely to have a lead partner. And that lead partner carries the responsibilities and the financial burden in that regard. And that's why it's really important that you have those kind of working agreements underneath all those arrangements to make sure that you have your contracting or working with your partners in the right way. So I guess it very much varies on the type of partnership that you're building.

    We at NCVO partner with content experts and there's nothing written down. We're just partnering with them because they're great and they can do some really good stuff with us. And so much good stuff happens across the sector when people can just come together and try and address some of the big societal issues that we all want to achieve. So you can be really informal, and there's nothing legally binding. You're just working on the kind of goodwill and the great work and the great people that we are fortunate to work with within the sector.

    Thanks, and I think this question might have caused a couple of issues in the audience around the acronyms. Eve, can you clarify what a WTA and CPA are again?

    Sure, so a WTA is a Working Together Agreement, and it basically is a contract that outlines what you're going to achieve together, but it's not commercially driven, so it is more if you're in a Charity of the Year partnership, for example. It's giving each other the rights to use each other's logos. It's putting down a rough view of what it is you're trying to achieve together. So whether that is raising funds, or engaging employees, it will normally have something, rough in there about what the partnership will look like. So you might have a schedule of your plan for the year, for example, and it will also have any clauses in there that you, as an organisation, need to include.

    So at Cancer Research UK, we would always have a clause in any contract about tobacco, given the nature of what we do, so it's almost an agreement to say "this is what we're trying to do together. A CPA, which is a Commercial Partnership Agreement or Arrangement, is the commercial side. So it is basically if, you have a sponsorship agreement. If you have a licencing agreement and there is an exchange of income or money for services that are being provided, you would put a CPA in place. The CPA would include the brand licencing information, clear brand use and guidelines. They'll normally be if it's used on something like a cause-related marketing product. So when you have your logo on a product, it would normally have, for example, the contribution statement that would go on. That would be included in this contract because it's really important to make sure the contribution statement is correct. So things like that and any rights schedule. So if it's a sponsorship agreement, you would have in there all the rights that a partner would have received and what that looks like from a charity perspective. So it's really just laying down what it is you're doing together. But one has a commercial element to it, and the other is more an agreement of how you're working together.

    Thank you very much, and yes, it's hard for me to know sometimes what everything means. And then Andrew, same question for you - "What's an MOU?"

    Apologies, so a Memorandum of Understanding is almost like a layer below a contract. It's not recognised by the laws of England and the courts of England, but it is something that does clearly outline the ways of working and all the things that Eve has just mentioned there - in terms of the roles and responsibilities and the things that you will do in the partnership. But it's much more informal and it's not legally binding contract in any shape or form.

    Great thank you. Now I think this might be slightly related, but if you have a very small team - so maybe someone who's doing the corporate partnership role on their own or even as part of a wider fundraising remit, would you steer away from big partnerships which require multiple stages? And are there other options?

    It's difficult to say. I would say it really depends on what your ambitions and hopes are for your corporate partnerships team. If you had an opportunity that was really big and could be transformational for you as an organisation, there would be maybe a question around "Do you need more people to help support deliver that, whether that's using existing head count or looking at recruitment?" I know that's not possible in all circumstances, but if you feel that there's a really brilliant opportunity that could really help deliver not only transformational income but also that core purpose piece like help you deliver what you need to do as an organisation, I think it would be worth looking into it.

    But as a rule, if there is just one of you, then maybe focusing on the more manageable, more employee focused relationships or, some kind of commercial, cause related marketing activity could be more advantageous from a wider perspective. I guess just you think differently. I think just to add to that one, if this was a situation where it just looks too good to be true and you can't miss the opportunity, and we have to look at take a look at this one, then you can think about the ways in which you're working as an organisation and what that might look like. And you may have someone in one team, but there might be skills elsewhere, and sometimes it's worth seeing if you can look outside of your team approach, at what exists elsewhere in the organisation.

    But then I would just consider if the opportunity was so good and it felt like the right thing to do, you could look at agency support. So there are certainly agencies out there that can help you in this space. So that means you haven't got that fixed long term cost that that goes with this. But actually, it might be that you just need someone really for six months of intense work on this to get the partnership, up and running until it's realised. And then that might open up a few doors or a few opportunities later down the line as well.

    Thank you both. We've got five minutes left. I'm going to pivot the conversation again slightly. How do you manage trustees' expectations in terms of resources required for partnership building and also seeing the real benefits?

    I would divert to Andrew here because I actually don't have as much contact with our trustees. I think it comes down to who sits on your board and who's looking at this and also your wider governance structure. So we have a finance and commercial committee that sits kind of as part of our governance structure. They are there to advise and be a critical eye to the decisions we make in our commercial space. And then we'll take advice from the board, but we can also utilise those individuals as people to think about what opportunities and what things might be able to do in the corporate relationship space.

    Or more broadly, I think keeping them in the loop is important, and even if you're not seeing the actual value, whether that's financial or social, at this moment in time, it's about being really clear that there's a roadmap and taking them on that journey with you. Because I think that if trustees are kept informed of what's happening and what's going on and what the end game is and where are we going to end up with this one, then I think that you're more likely to get that buy-in. So I think good communication with them, but also if you're looking to start or bring in a new corporate strategy or a new approach to your relationships with new sectors, and partnerships form part of that, bring them in at the beginning. Actually, we're thinking about doing this and this is going to be our approach. Give them licence to add value to that approach or identify any blind spots you might have along the way and then build on that. You can say, we're now making some operational decisions, to bring that to life and then as and when things are moving, you've got that board collective buy in that you're not going off and doing anything in a maverick fashion over here that then surprises them later down the line.

    I guess, just to add to that as well, really quickly, less about a board of trustees, but I think Andrew's point about engaging your stakeholders and bringing them on the journey, especially internally, from all perspectives is important. And I would say that with partnerships, you are a conduit almost to the wider organisation. So I would rely on my comms team to support me with communicating about a partnership, or I would be relying on my research information team to help me talk about the impact of the funds raised. To ensure that everyone's along that journey, and we're all pulling in the same direction. To allow that kind of operational resourcing and planning side of things, you really need to make sure all your stakeholders are engaged. So I think it's just a good approach, full stop for all your internal stakeholders.

    Thank you. I think we're pretty much out of time for any more questions, as we're bumping on two o'clock. But Andrew Eve, we've covered a lot of ground in the last hour. Is there anything more you wanted to add or anything that we haven't touched upon, which you want to get across to the audience?

    I've got a final thought about when you're engaging in sectors outside of the charity sector, remember that the voluntary sector is quite messy. Try and unpick that for them and make sure that you're bringing your value and you're percolating your value right to the top of the surface because there's different business models out there. The sector doesn't fit into nice, neat boxes, but neither do people in communities and those that we're looking to serve to understand the messiness recognise that will create challenges. But then try and work out with your corporate or partner to try and unpick and show your value and why you're the right partner for the right reasons.

    I really agree with that. One thought I would just end on and I always bear in mind is to always be open minded when looking at new partnerships, how you might want to partner what that opportunity could look like. It's very easy to go into any kind of activity, with the head of "We need to achieve this" or "We've got these budgets" or "We've got this core purpose delivery that needs to be delivered", or "How can we work with a partner to do that?" Whereas actually, if you go in really open minded and look at just learning about each other, understanding each other, and looking at what you can achieve together, that's how you get those longer lasting relationships because you're really looking at how you're building something together, how that's going to have impact for you as a charity, but also how that delivers against their objectives. And that's how you're going to show impact for them because you're delivering against what they need as an organisation, and they can see that they are doing something really impactful for your organisation.

    So when it comes to looking at impact, talking about renewals, talking about what's next, they trust and know that you are going to deliver something really incredible together. And they want to continue doing that. So I just always stay really open minded when looking at partnerships.

    Thank you both very much for that and for your contribution to the conversation. It's been a really good hour and I'm hopefully everyone's enjoyed it. To our audience, my apologies if we didn't get to your question this time, we tried to cover everything as broadly as possible. And thank you very much for joining us. Enjoy the festive break when you get there and we'll see you in the New Year. Thank you.

Speakers in this webinar

Andrew Walkey

Andrew Walkey
Director of Services and Partnerships, National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Eve Mitchell

Eve Mitchell
Head of Partnership Management, Cancer Research UK 

Nicola Toyer

Nicola Toyer
Head of Charities, Investec Wealth and Investment (UK)

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