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Business and Community, a marriage made in heaven?

Business and Community, a marriage made in heaven?

Does business engagement in the community make for perfect corporate social responsibility?

Many community organisations flirt with the idea of partnering with business, the perfect match between the gorgeous young thing with high ideals and worthy causes (an Eva Longario) with a strong, debonair business donor aligned with success and wealth (a George Clooney) should surely be a marriage made in heaven?

Why would a community organisation want to go knocking on the door of a business partner in the first place?

The Stanley East Company surveyed 30 New Zealand community organisations, representing health, community empowerment, the arts and education.

During their early courtship days community groups wanted to find the right partner, so we asked them how many companies had they approached? This appeared unknown for many, as numerous doors had been knocked on, too many funding applications had gone unrequited and too much water had swept under the bridge ravaging the memories of those that spent their days trying to get a response.

So what made them do it, what did they want from their partner-to-be? And what sort of response did they get?

All but one told us willingly whom they had initially wooed; surprisingly it was local businesses rather than many of the corporates that held the most appeal (the boy-next-door scenario?) Law firms and accountants seemed to be a popular choice, they had a tangible and much desired skill that was easy to ask for and easily provided, however names were often vaguely remembered.

A lot of business engagement came in the form of ‘special deals’, 10% off art products, stationery or a supply of petrol vouchers. A good idea to promote one community group was to have leaflets sent out in company brochures to customers. And one smart community leader made good tie-ins with sports clubs who helped promote their cause.

We asked how did you front up, did you wear your ‘best frock?’ Turning up and looking your best in terms of being well informed and knowing what the potential partner corporate goals were paid off. Those that knew how to boogie were there to develop long- term partnerships and prepared accordingly, sadly others wanted to “just tell them what we do.”

And whilst on that first nervous date, what did you ask for? In unison the community organisations called out, “what we want is money!” However as the relationship blossomed it didn’t take long to negotiate with business partners to assist on ‘community days’, get them painting rooms, attending dinners and auctions, provide reduced advertising and hotel accommodation, and best of all share their business skills.

With engagement there’s likely to be a wedding. Those that signed up to long-term relationships said it was because of good timing, genuine interest and often money “because when they are involved they give more time and… dollars.”

Yet some community groups were left jilted at the altar, promises were broken, events didn’t happen as said and the lack of interest in responding to queries made any viable relationship impossible.

And in some cases divorce was inevitable “we could never speak to the right people,” was mentioned several times and links broke once a business partner moved jobs and the community project fell in between the cracks. “Every 18 months a new manager comes in and we have to try to get to know them and explain what we do all over again.” Power struggles ensued, who did what and when?

If the divorce rate is high why bother with trying to get business partners then?
“It’s worth being in partnership, it’s good when they attend events.” Others said “we need them as volunteers to shake tins, that’s very useful, we would never have enough people.” Business partners provided professional assistance and training. Another said having an electrician as a business partner was the most useful they could have and others appreciated those that assisted with their accounts.

Those that have weathered the normal long term relationship ups and downs were happy yet still recognised a need to be closer “we need more skills training, our business manager has been made redundant as we could not afford to keep her and now we only have a clinical manager.” Others wanted presentation skills training and some business mentoring. It appeared the community groups were maturing in seeing business partners as allies and not just as funders.

Is the love still in the room? Were Valentines cards delivered each year?
To acknowledge and thank partners some community groups sent their regular newsletters, depending on the situation others would phone their thanks and write letters. Whereas some tailored their reports specifically to their business partners and ensured their names would be included in news stories and on their website.

One community leader said “we always let them know what their money did with a human interest story, it keeps our partner engaged and happy.”

So who were the most attractive business partners?

Nivea,Café l’afarre, Bell Gully, Avondale Office Products, USave, the Warehouse, Vodafone.
The Stanley East Company Flash Survey c2012

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