Partnerships: How to keep the spark alive?

Reinventing partnership – reflecting on success


I have been attending the Crowd since its early “Green Monday” days. Back then it provided vital moral support at a time when most attendees were quite alone in their organisations – the sole beater of the green drum. With a few more musicians in our sustainability orchestra, the Crowd now performs quite a different role. Indeed, when my charity - Global Action Plan - joined as a partner at the beginning of this year it was because of the Crowd’s role as a convenor of challenging questions and for the opportunity to reflect and improve.


The latest Crowd event on Reinventing Partnerships was a great example of this. The mutually beneficial and trusting Charity-Corporate partnership is the Holy Grail, and like most marriages, not an easy thing to achieve. There was much discussion on the night of what needed to be vetted and aligned on both sides for a partnership to be great and this made me think back to one of my first events with Global Action Plan.


Do we need Corporate-Charity Pre-nups?


The event was with our then corporate partner Sky – we had been “in bed” with Sky as their official charity partner for 3 years at that point. Together we had created a number of amazing programmes including schools programmes: Appetite for Action and Rainforest Rescue, but the relationship was not without its challenges. The event I attended was to launch of our version of a charity/corporate “Pre-nup” agreement to share our collective reflections on details important to sort out before any inter-sector “marriage”. At the time I remember even admitting to the challenges was pretty out there – most were desperately sweeping problems under their respective corporate/charity carpets. So that got me thinking did the bare-all pre-nup help us?


Creating an actual Partnership – not just one on paper…


The short answer is yes. It really changed the way we established our partnerships, importantly in helping us and our partners to talk through more difficult topics before getting started – what if one doesn’t hit the objectives, what if the main supporter/focal point in the organisation leaves, etc. As a result, we now have many strong multi-year relationships in the private, public and third sectors as well as great international partnerships with organisations who deliver programmes on our behalf abroad.


Five years on from writing that pre-nup, the bit that we probably now work hardest on is making sure that three, five or even 10 years on, the partnerships have the same energy and purpose as they did at their conception. To this end, here are five tips that we believe are critical in this:


Keeping the spark alive - Top Tips (from the charity side):


1.    A problem shared….


This sounds obvious but keeping communication regular, transparent and relevant creates opportunities to highlight issues (and great things!) as they happen – important to avoid unwanted surprises if things don’t go to plan. Partners can then come up with solutions together – it is hard to let the front down at first but it really does strengthen the partnership. For example, in last year’s H2O Heroes project with Thames Water – we struggled to recruit enough secondary schools to participate. GAP were quick to share this with Thames and together we agreed to extend the age band of the programme to include primary schools. The result was that we reached our schools engagement targets and a primary school even managed to win the programme competition. Next year, the programme will include both primary and secondary schools, and the extension has been a great benefit to the programme.


2.    Get partners involved in your wider activities


A sign of a great partnership is if both organisations are willing advocates of each other. Engaging partners actively in your joint project but also your wider projects and activities will help develop new insights and strengthen the relationship. At GAP, we invite key members of staff from partner organisations to join us at other programme events, whether having corporate partners as judges in our international schools Waterexplorer programme or getting our charitable investors  to join us in new programme design sessions to act as a (sometime very) critical friend!


3.    Tell stories – don’t just issue reports


Our partnerships all have regular reporting requirements (on as many as 17 monthly KPIs in some!), but going beyond that and making a point of sharing stories will bring your programmes to life – even if a bullet at the bottom of an email. Photos, blog posts, case studies and quotes often say so much more than the stats achieved and are much more likely to be forwarded on!


4.    Dress up as a carrot


It is important to be flexible and appreciate the value of lending a hand with some out-of-scope activities. This might be to deliver last minute “the European CEO is coming this afternoon” presentations or to dress as carrots to man a stall at an event that the partner is hosting (yes we have done this). Although these sorts of activities might not be in the original programme remit, they can offer a great opportunity to engage other people organisation as well as being invaluable to your inundated Partner focal point.


5.    Remember we are all human


It is so important to develop a relationship that goes beyond the payments, deadlines and deliverables. Getting past the formalities by having a quick drink together after an afternoon meeting will lead to great conversations beyond the immediate partnership. This personal relationship will help later if problems arise and inevitably mean that if you are asked to dress up as a carrot at their event, that you will.


Sonja Graham is Managing Partner at Global Action Plan. Global Action Plan is an environmental charity that has been helping people to adopt more sustainable behaviours since 1993. To find out more about Global Action Plan’s programmes and partnerships, visit here.



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