During a critical period a few years ago, Iceni received tremendous support from a wide range of people and organisations within the local community. Local businesses in particular rallied round in support of Iceni, and this support has continued.

Along with colleagues from other non-profit organisations, we are now hoping to explore how we can improve and build mutually beneficial relationships between local businesses and small local charities.

Improving business and charity relationships

At Iceni, we like the idea of both charities and businesses having a “what’s in it for us?” and “what’s in it for them?” mentality. Such relationships are like any other successful partnership – ideally a mutually beneficial one. What is important from the outset is identifying needs, wants and perceptions of both parties.

Small local voluntary organisations in Ipswich can enhance charitable brokering by truly getting to know local businesses and helping them understand their community, the role charities play, and the impact business support or donations can have in helping address urgent community needs.

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Being part of the local community is crucial to any size of business. Not only will employees feel more connected to a local cause but it can enhance the public appreciation of your company, plus help your organisation and employees achieve goals for social responsibility.

We have to help businesses see that making a donation can be more of a legacy in helping fix a community problem they care about and get them more involved in making sure their investment makes a difference. They key is forming effective partnerships in which donors become investors who actively participate in the change they want to see and get involved in helping to address community problems. This new approach, in which businesses become investing and participating partners of local charities rather than simply its absentee underwriters, will benefit both parties.

Many businesses already support a charity, and many are probably inundated with requests from different groups for sponsorship, donations or other ways of giving. Most large businesses already have programmes for social responsibility and community involvement, and even small businesses can make a difference too. However, local charities, particularly those who provide support for less popular causes, need a more compelling case for getting businesses to think local when it comes to being socially responsible.

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What’s in it for businesses?

Local charities can only benefit from partnering with businesses, but it’s also a good marketing strategy for the companies that make such a commitment. The keys to successful charity partnerships include choosing the right charity partner, choosing the right avenue of making donations, and choosing the right marketing strategy to inform your customers and the local community about your involvement.

With the rise in internet shopping and large businesses opting for out of town addresses, being part of the local community is crucial to any size of business. Not only will employees feel more connected to a local cause but it can enhance the public appreciation of your company, plus help your organisation and employees achieve goals for social responsibility.

Most charities should have a way of recognising business support. When a business decides to donate money, time, products or services to a local charity, including a business name is good promotion. People may be more apt to support businesses they feel are part of their community and show they care too about local issues that affect daily life.

The benefits of supporting local charities

Supporting a large, well-known charity, as many businesses do, is laudable. However, by supporting a small, local and less well-known charity, any support is likely to constitute a larger part of its budget and thus will be prone to initiate more of an impact.

There are charities that are well known and others that are unknown to most people. Some are huge organisations that provide services nationally; some are micro-sized entities that provide services in a local neighbourhood. They often work with many of society’s ills, yet many find it difficult to raise money because many prefer to support organisations doing the type of charitable work that seldom generates controversy or have a name known in most households.

Directly supporting worthy, smaller non-profits at the local level doesn’t have to drain bank accounts as many small charities, particularly those at the local level, have a need for time and services as well as cash. Harnessing the expertise and insight of a business partner can have a more dramatic impact than traditional financial support alone.

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How can a small charity compete and improve business relationships?

Businesses are willing to give, but are often confused as to which causes might be best for them; charities can assist with this process. The more a charity can offer, the more successful it will be in achieving partnership with sponsoring companies.

It is vital that charities establish what role a potential donor business sees themselves playing. Do they just want to write a cheque, or will they want a more active role? It may pay to do some digging and find out what local companies focus on in their CSR policies. What other charities do they or have they supported? Who are the right people to contact? What are their individual passions? Are there any products/services that tie into your mission and objectives? What’s a natural fit? It will be useful from the outset to listen to and identify business needs, wants and perceptions.

More businesses are looking to move away from old-fashioned philanthropy towards “strategic philanthropy” or “social investment”. This means they want to be able to evidence how their company has made a difference to local social problems. It’s up to the charity to facilitate that ambition. Similarly, many businesses are becoming increasingly keen on seeing tangible results and knowing that their investment is used effectively and spent wisely. What is becoming crucial is the ability of charities to evidence that what they do works, and the real impact they make.

Promoting the partnership

Once a successful partnership has been formed, don’t forget to invest in promoting it. Develop a detailed communications plan that will leverage the media opportunities for both the charity and the business. Let local people know how the partnership is helping achieve the charity’s mission and the difference it is making.

Big national charities often have staff assigned to cause-related marketing, or they may hire consultants who specialise in securing corporate support. Such skilled people are often beyond the budgets of small charities, but don’t be put off because you are a small local charity. You can still get business support.

Think of concentric circles of influence in your local area. Start with the people you know well, or have close proximity to, and then work on engaging local media outlets, as well as businesses that have worked with other charities in the past.

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