A pharmacist selecting drugs for a patient

Developing meaningful corporate-charity partnerships

Businesses are no longer judged solely by their financial performance.

Consumers, employees, and investors increasingly expect companies to demonstrate their commitment to driving positive social and environmental change. For example, 7 out of 10 consumers tend to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place.

This expectation is not misplaced – businesses have immense potential to bring about real change. One powerful way that businesses can make a significant impact is by developing meaningful corporate-charity partnerships.

Thinking beyond traditional philanthropy

Corporate philanthropy has historically been synonymous with ‘charitable giving,’ whereby a for-profit actor funds non-profit actor/s (e.g. charities) who are doing good work for the community and/or the environment.

Sometimes, companies will offer volunteering opportunities for staff with the charitable organisations that they are funding. For example, an oil and gas company may fund a local food bank and encourage its employees to give up one day per year to volunteer at the bank.

There are several positives to this approach: a local food bank receives necessary funding, community members receive nourishment and company employees develop an increased understanding of the challenges faced by their neighbours.

However, when corporate charitable giving practices do not align with the business’ own commercial activities, the value of the business’ philanthropic work may diminish in the eyes of internal and external stakeholders. Why? Because it doesn’t really make sense. Why would an oil and gas company fund a food bank? What connects oil and gas…to food security?

Alignment is key. Private sector actors should be thinking intentionally about what their business’ strengths are and playing to that in the development of their philanthropy strategy and related initiatives. One way to do this is for companies to foster long-term relationships, or partnerships, with one or more charities that serve a need in the community that aligns with the company’s business strengths.

The benefits of well-aligned corporate-charity partnerships

Engaging in long-term corporate-charity partnerships aligned to a business’ strengths make corporate philanthropy meaningful and offer a win-win scenario.

Charities gain access to resources, expertise, and visibility that can enhance their initiatives and amplify their reach. And companies benefit from enhanced reputation, employee engagement, and customer loyalty—because the company’s philanthropic activities make sense in the context of what the business does (alignment).

For example, Boots (the pharmacy and beauty retailer) has had a close partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support since 2009. Their partnership is interesting because it didn’t begin as a traditional corporate charitable giving relationship. It started as a non-financial partnership with benefits for both sides.

As the go-to high street pharmacy, Boots’ locations across the country see countless cancer patients every day who come in to pick up their medicine, and Boots shares Macmillan’s information (e.g. via leaflets) with these customers.

This allows Macmillan to amplify their reach and increase their support to more cancer patients than ever before, while also allowing Boots to enjoy an enhanced brand reputation as a company who cares about cancer and the lives it affects.

In return, Macmillan positions Boots to its service users as the go-to pharmacy for advice and support for cancer patients. This, of course, also benefits Boots in terms of potentially expanding its customer base.

Additionally, Macmillan nurses train Boots pharmacists on how to be more empathetic front-line medical providers for people with cancer, which ensures that people with cancer who frequent Boots will have a more comfortable, inclusive experience.

What makes the Boots-Macmillan relationship meaningful is that there is alignment between what Boots does as a business (health care) and what Macmillan offers in the way of its charitable services (cancer support). Their innovative partnership proves that even in instances where there are no cash exchanges between a company and a charity, there is still potential to have tremendous positive impact that is mutually beneficial for both organisations and the individuals who engage with them.

Conclusion

Ultimately, developing a meaningful corporate-charity partnership needs many different ingredients. Both parties must be committed to engaging in something intentional and long-term, understanding that it might take a while for the impact to be seen or felt.

Key to developing a meaningful corporate-charity partnership is ensuring alignment between a business’ strengths in its commercial activities and a charity’s focus.

The partnership must make sense to internal and external stakeholders for it to have the most benefit for the charity, the business and ultimately (and most importantly) the people who the partnership helps.

What next?

If you’re a business wanting to elevate your corporate philanthropy efforts, contact us to explore innovative ways to drive positive impact for people and planet.

For more information, you can also read our report ‘Building more impactful corporate-charity partnerships’.


This is the first in a series of blogs on the theme of ‘Business for a Better World’, focusing on powerful yet practical ways that businesses can maximise their positive social and environmental impact.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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