What leads to a good partnership between a charity and private business? This was the question the Institute of Directors Scotland recently set Melanie Hill from Scottish Power, Ryan Donaghy from SCVO and myself in a discussion hosted by their Chair, Aidan O’Carroll.

The collective learning from the session can be distilled into eight essential points:

One: Move on from the outdated stereotype that sees the corporate world as needing to somehow “assuage its guilt” by funding charities to do good. Businesses like Scottish Power, our corporate partner in the ground-breaking Breaking Barriers programme, have a strong social agenda and a long tradition of building partnerships for the long term.

Two: Put yourself in the shoes of the corporate you want to partner with. Ask yourself ”how does my offering fill a gap for the business I’m targeting?” Most business leaders want to do the right thing, but need an idea that aligns with what they do and what they believe. Are they interested in Triple Bottom Line reporting, focussing on people and planet, as well as profit? Do they want to improve the diversity of their workforce?

Three: Be ambitious but start small. Propose trying an idea on a relatively small scale, learn from this experience and grow from there. This allows time to prove a concept works, and ensures any risks are minimised and shared between the partners. Aim to sow a seed for change, rather than attempting to reap the harvest immediately.

Four: Prize long-term societal change over short term cash. Scottish Power could not employ everyone who has a learning disability or who is excluded from the labour market. But they could, by providing a range of employment opportunities, refine and promote a model that demonstrates to other companies the benefits of inclusion and diversity in the workplace.

Five: Recognise that companies are looking for development opportunities for their leaders. How would being involved with your charity help the company’s leaders grow? How will you support that growth with resources and opportunities?

Six: Invest the time necessary to bring the whole business on board, not just one champion. If a single champion leaves, your partnership is likely to leave with them. Having buy-in across a business gives you resilience – and also additional opportunities, such as connections to other businesses or professional bodies.

Seven: The strength of a partnership is tested when things are going well, but even more so when there are troubles – and COVID-19 certainly is troubling! Creating and maintaining a long-term partnership requires tenacity. Don’t withdraw when things get tough, and don’t wait until all is calm before you engage with business, because that day is unlikely to ever come.

Eight: Size matters. There are 48,000 other Scottish voluntary organisations who may approach the business you are interested in working with. Don’t just focus on big companies: 85% of businesses in Scotland are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In summary, enter a charity partnership with a business in the knowledge that there is mutual benefit to be earned, and that together, deeper, more systemic change can be delivered. Having worked in both sectors, I know that the impression of these being two separate worlds is counter-productive; we need to bring the two together, united around a purpose.

Theresa Shearer, Group CEO of Piper Group and ENABLE Scotland, Vice Convener of SCVO

View a recording of the session on YouTube: