Mind The Gap – Why don’t businesses and charities understand each other?

Guest Blog by Graham Sprigg FRSA

Most of us, at some time in our career, have been involved in charitable giving or providing support to local community initiatives. For the most part, individual members of staff, teams and employers alike feel they have achieved something positive.  Recent research published by Community Interest Company Partnership of Equals suggests that all may not be what it seems.

In an effort to better understand how businesses, charities and community groups work together, recent research involving over 270 representatives of the three parties at workshops, individual interviews and an online survey delivers some very interesting results. The overwhelming majority of people taking part in the research (91%) of those questioned agreed that working with communities can benefit the employees of a business as well as community volunteers, in developing new skills and experience. However,while the majority of businesses felt that their experiences partnering with charities or community groups had been positive, the opposite opinion is held by those same charities and community groups.

It seems there is a mis-match in expectations and needs, and that one partner often doesn’t fully understand what the other is expecting from the relationship.

From the business perspective, many of those interviewed actively supported charities. However, when interviewed, their view was that the relationship was often one-sided, with insufficient feedback from the partner on the way a campaign or initiative was developing and what, precisely the company’s involvement was helping to deliver. This was particularly common where a business was involved with a small local charity or community group.Businesses also expressed concern that once they had offered financial support there was no cap on their giving. They often felt obliged to continue to provide funding.

Meanwhile, several charities expressed surprise that companies expected them to organise volunteering days for large numbers of staff. The feedback from several charity representatives was that they weren’t purely seeking funding. Provision of specialist skills, such as assistance with management processes, accounting or marketing were often more useful than pure financial support.

Partnership of Equals offers this advice to businesses,based on the outputs from the workshops and interviews that formed part of the research.

  1. Don’t automatically expect your chosen charity to organise volunteering days for you.They may not have the resources, the projects, or indeed the finances, to arrange this.
  2. Do offer specialist skills. Often, the value of your team’s expertise is greater than money alone. See what the charity is short of, skills-wise, and see how you can match these.
  3. Do set a limit on time, materials or financial contribution and make this clear to the partner at the outset. Agree what you will, and will not, provide and try to set some ambitions for both your company and the charity partner.

For charities and community groups, Partnership of Equals suggests:

  1. Be clear about what you expect and what, if anything, the company partner can expect in return. They may appreciate a monthly update on project progress,stories for their company website or more specific key performance indicators.
  2. Remember that companies need to make a profit. They may give generously, but their time is money. Basic courtesies such as arriving on time for a meeting are important.
  3. Consider what you can give back. Often, allowing your business partner to gain a better understanding of local community needs is valuable to their business and their team. Offer to present a brief summary of what your charity has achieved, or why the particular problem that you are addressing exists in society.

It emerged from the research that there is a real need for improved communications, between the parties and within organisations themselves. Proposals for eliminating the gap in understanding between businesses and community groups, and improving partnering to deliver positive outcomes, include; local networking, the development of a nationally-based but regionally-represented brokerage service and better signposting of the large amount of excellent information that already exists.

In an effort to improve the situation, Partnership of Equals’ insight report includes suggested frameworks for improving engagement and understanding between businesses,community groups and charities.

Author: Editorial Team

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