Saying no is never easy and deciding not to renew a donation can be worse. Here are some tips on handling the difficult process.
One trend in corporate giving in recent years has been a switch away from making many small donations to bigger commitments often over several years. This benefits companies and charities able to participate, but brings a new problem in its wake – how to part on good terms at the end of the commitment.
If handled wrongly, the negative feelings and bad publicity can seem to outweigh the good done over previous years. The most high profile examples of this have been in the arts, where instead of being thanked for many years generous support, sponsors are blamed.
The truth is change is often painful and it is never easy to stop supporting an organisation doing good work, especially when no alternative funding is apparent. But change is necessary – companies change their objectives, as do charities; the needs in society change. It does not benefit anyone to remain trapped in the arrangement that has outlived its original objectives.
Corporate donations should not be a substitute for mainstream public funding. If companies are to maintain their role of funding innovative and risky projects, to demonstrate their worth so other mainstream funders can step in with confidence, they must be prepared to move on.
Plan and communicate
Donations can range from small £100 one-off donations to six-figure three year sponsorship deals. Apart from the smallest, stopping funding can be fraught with misunderstandings. Essence of managing the process is forward planning and communication. Here are some tips.
For all but the smallest clearly one-off donations, be explicit at the outset: will a donation definitely be renewed, or definitely not, or only if certain conditions are met? Put it in writing – usually not in a legal contract, simply a paragraph in a letter. Memories are faulty, phone conversations are unrecorded, staff change – the scope for misunderstand is great. So write it down.
Set clear objectives at the outset: why are you making the donation? what do you expect the charity to achieve? Does the charity understand and agree?
Be clear about the timing: what is the time period over which the agreed objectives must be achieved? are there interim review dates (eg every twelve months for a three year commitment)?
Be clear about these interim reviews: these must be carried out against pre-set objectives – ie don’t move the goal-posts – and undertaken in good time before the end of the funding. The charity must have time to seek alternative funding; staff may be employed who require notice and time to seek other jobs or be re-deployed.
Maintain regular contact, stay in touch, give the charity the opportunity to tell you well in advance if things are not proceeding to plan.
Always be as open as possible, especially when the news is bad. People may not like your decision or even agree with it, but they are better able to accept it if they understand it. Try to avoid standard letters baldly stating that shortage of funds means a negative response.
Periodically keep your objectives under review and get the benefit from outsider experts, whether an advisory panel of honorary experts or specialist consultants.
Of course it is never an easy process, but most charities know what is involved. Ultimately it is in the long term best interests of the whole movement to manage changing priorities professionally.
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 12 – October, 1993