How to create impactful charity partnerships (and why bother)

Publication date
Imogen Beech
Reading time
7 minute read

Corporate-charity partnerships are (perhaps surprisingly) incredibly popular. 40% of businesses claim that partnerships with charities are important to their business agenda, according to The Guardian. Meanwhile, a third state that partnering with charities is ‘very important’ to them.

But why is everyone jumping on the bandwagon? Do business-charity partnerships really work that well?

In a nutshell, we believe that they can work amazingly if you do them right. But sadly they’re not done right too often! Read on while we reveal all.

Why corporate-charity partnerships?

If you looked at the figures above and thought that the world’s getting a whole lot more kind and giving, we hate to break it to you but that’s not necessarily true!

Unlike trusts, foundations and philanthropists, the brands that embark on charity partnerships aren’t usually doing so altruistically. 91% of businesses who enter charity partnerships cite brand reputation as their primary motivation, according to NPC.

Think about it: if you know that a brand is engaging in social good, you might be more likely to think well of them. This works equally well for small, family-run businesses as it does for multinational household names like Microsoft. In fact, Microsoft is a great example of a company that engages in charity work, encouraging its engineers to teach high school computer science classes and pledging to fix nonprofit leaders’ tech and data problems.

But why is charity work so central to brand reputation? Ultimately, this is largely about corporate responsibility, more commonly known as CSR…


CSR is the belief that a brand should be accountable to itself, its stakeholders and the world at large. Although the term was coined way back in the 1950s, there’s been a much more recent spike in brands that engage with it. In the 20 years since 1993, the percentage of companies that generate CSR reports increased from 12% to 71%, according to a paper published by ScienceDirect.

This is indicative of the fact that companies are facing more and more pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness of their CSR activities. And this, in turn, all stems from consumers themselves.

Accenture reports that more than half of customers in the UK and 75% of Gen Z want companies to take a stand on issues they’re passionate about. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that six in ten consumers under the age of 30 consider a brand’s ethical values carefully before buying their products.

At the same time, Cone Communications claims that 64% of millennials would refuse a job from an employer without a strong CSR policy. With millennials due to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, that’s a figure that companies can’t ignore.

So, it’s not enough for a brand just to be socially responsible anymore. It’s become crucial that they also communicate their social responsibility to potential customers and employees, for the sake of their reputation and their metrics!

Business charity partnerships

Where business-charity partnerships go wrong

We all remember the days where a smartly-dressed CEO would hand over a cheque to a chosen charity once a year, with as much razzle-dazzle as they could muster. But although charitable donations are no bad thing, for the most part, these partnerships lacked impact as well as lustre.

To start with, consumers rarely knew (or cared) that the brand was handing over a sizable cheque each year. In fact, the majority of these partnerships would typically come and go without raising any awareness for the brand at all.

And it wasn’t all rosy for the charity either.

NPC’s research reveals that corporate-charity partnerships are historically unequal. While the brands typically hold all the cards, they’re not often specialists in the area they’re giving to, which means charities often get asked to do things they can’t. Or worse still, they can be landed with donations of resources or voluntary work that they don’t actually need!

To top it all off, both the brands and charities that NPC surveyed complained about not being able to be honest.

What does an impactful charity partnership look like?

Yes, there are many pitfalls that charities and brands can fall into when it comes to business-charity partnerships. But there’s also so much potential!

Brands often have a ton of resources that can make all the difference to charities trying to make a difference. And charities have the ability to transform a brand’s reputation in the eyes of the public, making them great partner marketing prospects. Surely this is too good an opportunity to be wasted!

So, what does an impactful charity partnership actually look like?

Well, it will often look exactly like a successful partnership between two brands.

In other words, it could take the form of a content partnership, a co-branding partnership, a distribution marketing partnership, sponsorship, a joint product partnership… the sky’s the limit!

Thinking about charity partnerships in this way will unlock much more productive collaborations. While the term ‘charity partnership’ incorporates any kind of partnership between a brand and a charity, these other partnership types give a much clearer idea of what the partnership could actually involve.

For example, UNICEF and Target teamed up on a co-branded marketing campaign that saw Target selling kid-friendly fitness trackers. These trackers encouraged the wearer to exercise in order to unlock food packages for underprivileged children across the globe.

For more inspiration, check out our top pick of impactful charity partnership examples.

Target and UNICEF charity partnership

As you can imagine, the campaign raised a lot more brand awareness than a simple donation would have done. And, even more importantly, the partners’ efforts contributed towards saving 40,000 children across ten countries.

This is exactly the kind of collaboration you’d expect to see between two corporations: it benefits both sides equally and involves working towards a common goal. Why should a charitable partnership look any different?

5 tips for creating impactful charity partnerships

Aside from treating your charity partnership like any other kind of partnership, here are our top five tips for creating corporate-charity partnerships that have an impact.

1. Find a charity you’re passionate about

It’s vital to collaborate with a charity that’s solving an issue you and your customers really care about. First, it means you’ll be really invested in making the partnership work for the benefit of both parties (which we’ll get to later). But on top of this, if the charity doesn’t appeal to your target market, it’s going to be hard to leverage the partnership for the good of your business objectives.

We think Gillette’s long-standing partnership with Movember is a great example of a hyper-relevant charity partnership. Movember, which helps to better men’s mental and physical health, holds a yearly campaign encouraging men to get sponsored for growing moustaches. So, what better partner than a razor brand? Every year, Gillette encourages consumers to take part in the month-long challenge, offering incentives such as free razor blades, as well as raising money for the charity through initiatives like selling moustache styling kits.

Gillette and Movember charity partnership

2. Be honest

As NPC’s research shows, lack of honesty between brands and their charity partners is a major challenge. It might sound crass to admit that your motives in partnering with a charity aren’t altruistic. But if you’re not honest about what you want to get out of the partnership, how is your partner supposed to help you achieve your goals?

Be open about what you’re hoping to achieve and what you have to offer, and encourage the charity you’re working with to be the same. That way, you’ll be much better placed to put yourself in the charity’s shoes and they in yours. This is key to a long-lasting relationship.

3. Set measurable goals

Just like any kind of strategic partnership, you’re not going to get the results you want if you’re both working towards different goals. Worse still, without a common goal, you won’t even be able to agree on whether or not the partnership was successful!

Even though your reasons for entering the partnership might be different, try to come up with a few key objectives that can be easily measured. For instance, if we return to our example of Gillette and Movember, the main measurable could be the number of people signing up to receive a free Gillette razor. This would demonstrate the incentive’s effectiveness in getting people to take part in the challenge, so it’s an objective that both parties could get behind.

4. Make both sides equal

If one party has all the power in a partnership, it’s destined to fail. Firstly, it’s sure to breed resentment. But secondly, if both parties are going to be equally invested, they need to benefit from the partnership equally. How’s that going to be possible if one side has more say than the other?

Although as a brand, you may be able to contribute more to the partnership in terms of resources or financing, it’s important to understand that you need the charity as much as it needs you. After all, the opportunity to benefit your brand reputation can be priceless. Plus, your partner will have a ton of experience in areas that you don’t, so treat them as the experts and hear what they can bring to the table. Which brings us onto...

5. Think outside of the box

Rather than approaching a charity and saying ‘here’s what we want to do,’ try sitting down with them in a creative session to work out how both your goals can be achieved.

A true collaboration brings together skills from both parties in order to create something special that neither could have achieved alone. So, take the time to listen and learn from one another. After all, the very best collaborations out there haven’t yet been thought of!

On top of these five tips, make sure you also follow our steps towards creating a successful strategic partnership. That way, you won’t be tempted to fall into any of the common strategic partnership pitfalls either!


As you can see, there’s a lot more to effective charity partnerships than simply handing over a cheque and inviting over the local newspaper. A business-charity partnership can take the form of pretty much any of the 15 types of strategic partnerships out there. So, the same rules apply!

When you’re ready, don’t forget to sign up with Breezy to start your hunt for partners. Good luck!

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