Skip to main content

What charity communicators should know about working in partnership

9 February 2018

Are you working with a celebrity to raise your profile? Boosting your fundraising by getting a big corporate on board?Maybe you’re joining forces with other charities to campaign for policy change?

Whatever kind of partnership you’re involved in, the CharityComms seminar on partnerships had an inspiring case study or practical tip to help. Here are four key points the speakers all agreed were vital to making your collaborative communications a success.

Videos of the presentations are linked throughout – exclusive to CharityComms members.  Drop Robyn an email to get the password to access them.

1. Know why you’re doing it

Ask yourself if the partnership will truly help you achieve your charity’s vision and mission. When you’re sure you have a strategic reason for getting involved, be clear about your own objectives first.

Jenna Hall, programme director at Tesco National Charity Partnership, talked about how important it is to be aware of the priorities and cultures of your partners, but to always stay focused on your own aims. All partners need to have a shared understanding of what you’re there to do – then you can ensure a consistent approach, and tone of voice, when you do it.

When you’re forming a partnership with a celebrity, be sure you benefit from their profile, not the other way around. According to Alex Eagle, co-founder and CEO at The Running Charity, and Paul Cullen, celebrity and VIP manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, the relationship should always be about furthering your objectives, rather than their career.

2. Know when to say no

You can’t campaign on all the issues, so pick the ones that best fit with your overall organisational strategy and are likely to give you the greatest impact. Richard Lane from Scope found his charity had to be realistic and limit the number of coalitions they got involved in.

You may need to say ‘No’ to media coverage, particularly if you have concerns about an interview being damaging to your beneficiaries. As Alex from The Running Charity said, ‘They’re not reality stars’.

And if you are working with reality stars…? They may not always be best association for your brand. Paul from Macmillan mentioned the pitfalls of paying celebrities for their time. It’s a ‘No’ from him.

3. Know when to defer to your partner

Partnerships allow you to share knowledge and expertise more quickly and easily, giving you the best value for your supporters’ money.

Jon Holmes, home page editor, Sky Sports Digital, spoke with Kim Sanders, head of media engagement at Stonewall, about how their partnership helped them both reach beyond their established audiences. Stonewall gained far greater visibility for the ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign to show support for LGBT people in sport. Sky learned from other corporate partners involved in the campaign and were able to reach a more diverse and wider audience as a result.

But remember to set clear lines of responsibility at the beginning. When you don’t, warned Richard from Scope, you might find no one takes responsibility. Or worse still, your comms will go the way of ‘death by committee’.

Being a good partner sometimes means stepping aside and giving someone else the platform. For example, could you put your storytellers at the front of a campaign communication, rather than your press teams or chief executive?

And don’t forget to share the love. Alex from The Running Charity suggested always publically giving credit to partners whenever you can.

4. Know who you’re doing it for

It’s an obvious one for communicators, but all speakers reiterated how important it is to be clear who your audience is and what you want them to do.

Remember, it’s not about getting mentions for your organisation, it’s about relaying the wider impact of your work. Whether you’re aiming for press coverage, increased supporter numbers, or communicating directly with decision makers, telling authentic human stories is key.

Alex from The Running Charity recommends having a clear narrative that starts with the people you support. His organisation always aims to understand the story the individual young person wants to tell, and doesn’t try to control it. If your charity is not mentioned, it doesn’t matter. It’s about empowering the young people – the mentions are a bonus.

Image :  “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

More like this: You can find the speakers’ presentations here, along with the tweets from the day. 

Read more:

Strange bedfellows: UNILAD meets Drinkaware

Sarah Myers

copywriter and editor, freelance

Sarah Myers is a copywriter, editorial consultant and creative manager, with more than 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector. She has worked in-house for Mencap and Macmillan Cancer Support, and at a charity copywriting agency. Now freelance, her clients include an extensive range of charities, professional bodies and specialist agencies. Her guide to Storytelling for Impact was published by the Directory of Social Change in 2022.