Before You Get Started

For a business, particularly a small to medium-sized one, getting involved in a community business partnership can be incredibly rewarding for both the business and the staff. But it is not something to be taken lightly.

Like any commitment or any agreement between two parties there can be pitfalls if one partner makes commitments that they are unable to meet. For some businesses with limited resources it can have a serious impact.

That is why it is important that before joining a partnership with a community organisation all small and medium businesses should start by "doing some homework".

Even in local communities where the businesses know and are aware of local groups and the people who run them, preparation is the key to ensuring your partnership is founded on strong links and a strong alignment of values and missions.

What does it mean?

Basically that your business should take the time to work out specifically:

  • What you think is the best model of partnership.
  • What you want out of a partnership.
  • The community group or groups that could best suit that type of partnership.
  • Recognition of what the business can bring to the table in any partnership.
Thinking about these things will make the job of identifying the right potential community partner that little bit easier.

The first step is having a clear understanding of what you - and your business - want to achieve and what you are looking for.

Self-Evaluation

Before committing valuable time and resources to getting a partnership off the ground, it is essential for small to medium-sized business to conduct an honest self-evaluation to work out both their readiness and level of interest in a partnership.

You need to have the capacity to fully commit to a partnership or be able to decide what level of partnership you want so you don't over-commit and then face the option of leaving a community group disadvantaged if you had to scale back at some stage.

Issues that should be assessed in any self-evaluation include:

  • Financial standing in the marketplace and ability to invest in a partnership
  • Standing with staff
  • Standing with customers and in the community
The main purpose is to ensure that you are ready, willing and able to deliver on your commitments. A self-evaluation may also lead to discussions about ways in which you are actually able to provide more support in different ways to a community partner.

In looking at a community business partnership, you should consider:

  • Whether your business is ready for a community partnership and if it is able to offer the commitment of time, money or resources - or a mix of all three.
    It is vital business is realistic on this topic, as you want any prospective partnership to complement your current operations, not divert you from them. Estimate how much it would cost in money, time and other resources to service a partnership, what type of partnership would suit you best and what level of partnership you can afford to service.

  • What your business' aims and values are, and whether any potential community partner shares that outlook.
    Again, this is a way to begin considering what sort of community group partner would be ideal for your business.

  • What your business could offer a prospective partnership.
    There are a number of ways business can be involved in a partnership, including in-kind support, volunteering, sponsorship, pro bono advice or services, donations of a percentage of sales or sharing of skills or resources, to mention a few.
    More information on partnership models can be found in the Ways to Be Involved Help Sheet at the Our Community website. This should also help you start thinking about some initial ideas for a suitable community sector partner for your business.

  • How your business would like to benefit from a partnership with a community group.
    For example, could it gain publicity, more customers or an improved standing in the marketplace through a successful partnership?

  • How staff would benefit from a partnership with a community group .
    Some of the benefits could include improved morale and self-esteem, feelings of giving back to the community, or even valuable experience through volunteering or pro-bono work. It is also worth considering how those staff benefits would then flow back into your system through improved staff retention, satisfaction and experience.

  • Which community groups or sectors would not be appropriate to go into partnership with.
    An exercise and physical fitness group would most likely rule out a partnership with a tobacco retailer as their core interests - exercise and fitness versus sale of cigarettes - are in serious conflict. Instead, the group could prefer to look at a sports or gym business as a prospective partner.
    Think about what sort of groups would have interests that clash with your own before any approaches to potential partners are made.

  • Which local community groups are in harmony with your organisation's values system and could be potential community partners.
    Developing a partnership with a local group multiplies the benefits to the local community and should be a priority when seeking a partner.

Discussion with Staff

It is vital at the earliest possible stage to engage staff in any discussion about a community business partnership to ensure it is one in which the whole business can be engaged and involved.

In many businesses today, the reality is that community business partnerships are being driven by staff who want to "give back" to the community and add some higher cause of public benefit to the work they do. They also want to do it together in a "team" atmosphere. It is then a case of working with management to establish the best method of engaging in a community business partnership.

The best results occur when the business involvement is a "team effort", from the initial discussions about whether the company should enter into a partnership, to deciding how and who to partner with.

Ideas for engaging your staff in discussion

  • An informal chat over lunch or coffee in the staffroom
  • A notice on the noticeboard asking for suggestions and feedback
  • A discussion with staff representatives at a regular meeting
  • Informally polling staff members about the groups they would like to see supported
For very small businesses it is going to be even easier. It will be a case of looking in the mirror and saying who do I want to help? And how? Or talking to your business partner over a coffee and asking what should we do?

Staff should be asked for their thoughts and whether they are enthusiastic about making the partnership a "whole of business" arrangement where the entire staff can be actively involved.

Without unity and enthusiasm for a partnership, it is unlikely to work. However while you may need to "sell'' the concept to staff you cannot bully them into supporting the idea.

In asking for staff feedback you should:

  • Discuss with them the various partnership models, their involvement and how they could benefit from them.
    This is especially important if the model directly involves them. For example: staff volunteerism, staff donations, in-kind support, special event or workplace effort to raise money for a group, pro-bono work, community group membership, or committee or Board participation.

  • Take on board their suggestions.
    Staff members will have their own suggestions about what type of community group the business could partner, drawing from their own involvement or experiences with any number of groups such as sporting, cultural, support or conservation organisations. This is another way to personalise and better target a community business partnership and make it a more meaningful and fulfilling experience.

  • Think about multiple partnerships.
    For example, some staff could be involved and contributing to one partnership program while another group works with a group that is more in keeping with their own interest areas. Not only is it a way to partner more community organisations, but it offers a business a chance to gain more benefits while giving back more to the community.
After getting ideas from staff on possible partnership opportunities it is time to evaluate them - along with your own thoughts - before making a decision on what sort of community group, and partnership model, your business will pursue.

Once that decision is made, you will need to advise staff of the decision and talk to them about what they will need to do to make the planned partnership a success.

You can then begin preparing your approach to a community group or groups to discuss a mutually beneficial partnership. Refer to the Approaching a Community Group Help Sheet at the Our Community website for more information.