Six steps to successful charity partnerships

22 Apr 2015 Voices

This Responsible Business Week, Simon Phillips, director of fundraising at Macmillan Cancer Support, shares his views on why charity partnerships need to focus on much more than just cash in order to deliver real benefits for both parties.

This Responsible Business Week, Simon Phillips, director of fundraising at Macmillan Cancer Support, shares his views on why charity partnerships need to focus on much more than just cash in order to deliver real benefits for both parties.

What makes a good charity partnership? Raising money? The meeting of business minds? Delivering new, innovative services for supporters? PR value? It’s a straightforward question, with a less than straightforward answer. For Macmillan it’s all the above and more.

At Macmillan, our experience of working with businesses has taught us there’s no ‘one size fits all’ model. Gone are the days when charity partnerships were solely about making money and making employees feel good, and in 2015 we’re in an arena where charity partnerships must be based on collaboration, mutual benefit and delivering change that will impact those who need it most.

But the charity environment is competitive and crowded – more people are giving, but there are more good causes to give to. So we also need to be able to cut through the noise and encourage people to continue to support us and our services. This is our enduring challenge.

Charity partnerships aren’t just vital for the charity’s success, I would argue they’re key to the success of businesses too – with benefits reaching well beyond simply ticking the ‘CSR box’. That’s why it is so important to get the recipe right.

Our corporate partnerships are crucial to the continued delivery of our care and support services, which in 2013 alone helped Macmillan have a record impact on 5.2 million people affected by cancer. 

I believe there are six ‘key ingredients’ needed to create the perfect recipe, and bake up a successful corporate partnership cake that even Mary Berry would be proud of:

A clear, tangible goal

Ask yourself: why do you want to work together? What will you achieve together and what difference will this make to the lives of your beneficiaries? These are all questions you should be able to answer from the get go with your partner in order to create a clear vision of what you will achieve together.

We work hard to make sure that Macmillan’s partnerships are strategic and deliver value for people affected by cancer. We don’t just focus on partnering with businesses that are able to donate a significant amount of money - although that is important - we also look to partner with companies that are able to play a strategic role in helping us to reach and improve the lives of even more people affected by cancer.

Our five year partnership with Boots is an example of this: we’ve been working together since 2009 in order to extend our reach and bring cancer support and information directly to people on the high street. That was our joint vision and together we offer Macmillan information in all Boots UK stores and have created two bespoke cancer support roles: Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists and Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors.

Even three years after their creation, still nothing similar like them exist in the sector. In 2013 alone, 41,556 people were helped by Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists. That for me is true alignment.

A balanced partnership

We work to develop partnerships that bring value to both parties. Macmillan has a great deal to offer businesses, and as much to gain in return. We only work with partners that share our values, identify with our cause and that want to support us. Whatever their size, we work hard to make sure that both sides agree ways of working upfront and share a mutual respect for each other at all times. This enables us, should something stop working or aligning, to have the challenging conversations we need to have, as we need to have them, without risk to our shared ambition. 


Charity of the year partnerships are the bedrock of our corporate fundraising – and we’re good at them. However, with some businesses moving away from traditional charity of the year partnerships, we have to respond by building flexible partnership models that suit our partners.

We will always encourage our partners to commit to working with us longer term. For us it is all about planning what we can achieve in the long term – be that supporting staff, brand alignment or achieving a long-term objective for people affected by cancer.

Engagement on both sides at the right levels

Having decision makers for the partnership and involving the right people at the right time is crucial. At Macmillan we find the best way to ensure true partnership working is having representatives from key areas and levels across both organisations make up a core project group. This group act as representatives for both organisations and ensure that the partnership keeps moving. 

For instance our partnership with M&S is made up of multiple groups: a core working group comprised of team members across both organisations that meet frequently and discuss overall direction and strategy, as well as smaller ‘sub teams’ for each work stream, who specifically drive forward the activity and meet as often as they need to.

An amazing charity team

One thing that cannot be underestimated is having the right team managing your partnerships within your organisation. I’m incredibly lucky to have a fantastic large Corporate Partnerships team of talented people who provide dedicated account management services to our national and regional partnerships. Without this team’s dedication to improving outcomes for people affected by cancer, and high quality customer service, we wouldn’t have half the partnerships or services we have today.

And finally: brand alignment

As the No.1 Brand of 2014 it is vital that we work with businesses that share and align with our values and understand the real boost that our charity’s identity can bring to their business. This is vital to the continued development of our brand and our ambition.

For instance, with our partnership with npower, it is through leveraging the power of the Macmillan brand as well as our expertise that allows npower to meet business objectives. With as many as 500,000 people with cancer worried about heating their home after treatment, npower’s support in alleviating this stress via our partnership’s Fuel Management Programme has invaluable business and social benefits.

A charity partnership I particularly admire that achieves this perfect mix of key ingredients is Comic Relief and Sainsbury’s. I admire it not just for its sheer scale and breadth, but because it uniquely allows two great British brands to align seamlessly – for both commercial and charitable benefits. Which is crucial.

The brands and activities are now so much aligned that it is impossible to think of Comic Relief’s most-famous campaign Red Nose Day without also thinking of Sainsbury’s. The partnership really does tick all the boxes; is long-standing (it’s been going for 15 years now) it spans multiple commercial opportunities, employee and customer fundraising, celebrity engagement and service delivery and has above all raised £84million in total for the cause. Perfect.

Whatever your brand or your cause, there will be a relevant business out there to help you realise your ambition.