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The power of partnerships

Published: 23/07/20 | Categories: Author: Adam Fletcher

Adam Fletcher, Head of British Heart Foundation Cymru talks about the benefits of working together with other organisations.

Many charities are facing a daunting challenge as their work is more needed than ever while they are experiencing an unprecedented loss of income. Government and philanthropic support can help to address this but charities in Wales will still have to do more for less. Strategic partnerships will be more important than ever as organisations need to find new ways to carry out their vital work.

Covid-19 has already blurred boundaries between sectors as commercial organisations have pivoted to work with the NHS and charities to protect people’s health. For example, the Royal Mint used their manufacturing base in Llantrisant to make protective visors for NHS staff, while Hiut Denim used their site in Cardigan to produce much-needed scrubs for NHS staff.

Partnership-working recognises the limitations of what we can do on our own and the opportunities for achieving more by working together. Rather than damaging a brand, partnerships can also help organisations grow support and influence. Charities are already pioneering new partnerships to innovate and reach more people, and we need to share this learning and create an ecosystem in Wales that supports more effective partnerships.

Sparking innovation

At the British Heart Foundation (BHF), we built on existing technology partnerships with Freshworks and Microsoft to enhance our Heart helpline when we saw a 400% increase in calls in mid-March. We’re creating new ways for people to contact our BHF cardiac nurses including Live Chat and we also have plans for a helpline chatbot.

By working with the NHS we have also been able to develop new digital cardiac rehab at home resources in the absence of face-to-face provision. Without working with others, BHF would not have been able to develop innovative new products to support patients when Covid-19 and lockdown hit the country.

One example of service innovation in Wales which has received support from Welsh Government is Leonard Cheshire’s ‘Together as One’ project. This increased the range of activities disabled people could access and saved money by avoiding doing everything on a one-to-one basis and pooling direct payments together. This project was developed in partnership with Nesta, Cardiff University and WCVA’s Social Investment Cymru team.

Collaboration can drive innovation for several reasons. Working with a new external partner can help an organisation to more clearly define and understand organisational challenges. Collaboration brings together people with different experiences, skills and ideas. Partnerships also don’t just support new ideas but also their practical application – for example, through combining resources and minimising risks.

Increasing reach and impact

Working with other organisations is also an effective way for reaching more people. For example, the BHF has been able to provide CPR training kits to more than 240 secondary schools in Wales – and to about 5,600 schools across the UK – by working with the global healthcare business Laerdal. We have also been able to support more researchers by working in partnership with other funders.

Foodbank charities have been very effective at partnering with supermarkets and other organisations to increase donations and help more people. Covid-19 also created new commercial advertising opportunities for some charities through their corporate partnerships. For example, Nationwide donated their TV ad space to Shelter which gave them a platform to reach large audiences and would normally have cost them thousands of pounds.

Partnering with companies on cause-related marketing campaigns and sponsorship opportunities can also be win-win for charities as it can enable them to reach more people and raise additional money simultaneously. CRUK’s partnership with Nivea is one of the best-known examples of this. It can work with smaller companies too. Newport-based brewery Tiny Rebel produced a new ‘Stay Put’ beer during lockdown and raised over £30,000 for the NHS within hours of launching.

Unleashing the power of partnerships

We are not starting from scratch. Every organisation has multiple partner-type relationships already. Nor is this a new idea. WCVA identified collaboration as a top priority for the sector in 2019 to address the challenges faced by communities in Wales in new ways. However, the impact of Covid-19 on people’s health, wellbeing and the economy means we now need to collaborate more and build sustainable partnerships to help use limited resources with maximum impact.

There are reciprocal benefits for both charity and commercial organisations who work together. Charities need to trust and empower staff to build these external relationships. Third sector investment bodies can also help by providing incentives for collaboration when they’re allocating funding – for example, requiring evidence of partnership-working for certain grant awards to ensure sustainability. Together we can create an environment in Wales in which partnerships benefit and improve the communities we live and work in.