How Important Are Charity Corporate Partnerships?

Tim Wraith is the Corporate Partnerships Manager for Sobell House, the adult hospice based here in Oxford. Here he talks about the importance of partnerships with the business community and how they have changed over the years.

I crept out of the house just before 6:30 one morning last month to cycle into town to take part in the Virgin Sport Oxford Half Marathon – alongside 10,000 people. To say the weather was bad would be a huge understatement. The downpour was of biblical proportions as I headed to the Race Village at University Park. It seemed to be raining sideways! Only a few years ago around 30 to 40 people would be running for us, but this year saw a record 400+ pounding the streets of our wonderful city. Their efforts and energy raised over £80,000 for the hospice. As Corporate Partnerships Manager, my role is to form partnerships with the local business community. That includes asking companies to enter teams into events like the Oxford Half Marathon. This year 60 employees from eight of our charity partners took part.

But why do businesses engage with charities like Sobell House – and what’s the point?

For many years the defining image of a corporate partnership has been an outsized cheque being handed over by a smiling Chief Executive. I love any opportunity to promote charity engagement and the big cheque handover is a lot of fun. On this point, though, I am finding that many local business leaders want to have so many colleagues in the photo that the CEO is often at the back! What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that most businesses now want to form a partnership with a charity in lots of different ways and involve their wider team.

Raising money is a key part of my role to ensure we can offer high quality care at the hospice and out in the community. But cultivating a two-way partnership can bring about more lasting change, for the local business as well as the charity.

Over the course of my three years at Sobell House, I have seen more longer-term strategic partnerships forming with the hospice. Local businesses have a great desire to promote the work of Sobell House amongst their staff in an increasingly meaningful way.

By the very nature of what we do, we are very well-known. Wherever I go, someone tells me how Sobell House looked after their father, friend, neighbour or tragically their son or daughter. Their feedback is always glowing, and people so often want to give something back over the long term rather than just through a one-off event. One such corporate supporter is Darke & Taylor, who are electrical contractors based in Long Hanborough, and members of our Business Club. They are everything I look for in a charity partner and more – committed, enthusiastic, generous and highly supportive.

Recently I took time out to speak to Simon Newton, joint Managing Director at Darke & Taylor. I started by asking why it is so important for the business to partner with a local charity:

We are an Oxfordshire-based company, and have always been based in and around Oxford since the business first started trading in 1958.

Over 90% of our employees live in Oxfordshire and it makes sense to support a local charity, particularly one that a large number of us are not just aware of, but also have personal experience of and a connection to.

I was also keen to ask Simon what difference it makes to his business and the people he works with to partner with Sobell House:

The benefits to the business are around staff engagement; each fundraising activity we undertake has been a team effort and they create a sense of collective achievement and an opportunity to bond, which is great for morale.

Our suppliers have supported a number of our events by providing prizes for raffles and auctions, and our customers like the fact that Darke & Taylor take our corporate social responsibility seriously by using our workforce of 200 employees to raise funds for such a good cause.

Why do you think it’s been more beneficial to work with Sobell House over a longer period rather than the year-long Charity of the Year arrangement?

The key advantages of working with Sobell over a long period are threefold.

Firstly, the company and its staff develop a sense of commitment to the charity over time which helps get engagement when we run charitable events.

Secondly, we can set a more challenging overall target over time which our events all contribute towards.

Finally, over the last four years, we feel that we have got to know the charity and have met other like-minded and interesting businesses through the Sobell network.

What do you think has been the best fundraising initiative the team has done?

That’s a really difficult question to answer. There have been such a variety and all of them have been really good fun in different ways.

From physical challenges like walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Oxford Half Marathon and a 12-hour cyclothon at Brands Hatch, to staff social events like our Pie & a Pint and race nights, and other events such as golf days and dress down days, there’s been something for everyone and a really high proportion of our staff have taken part in something.

So, I would actually say the whole experience has been the highlight, rather than any one event.

I love being the Corporate Partnerships Manager at Sobell House. When I hear what supporters like Simon say about the hospice it really warms my heart to know that lots of people in our community are so committed to what we do. During days which seem dominated by Brexit talk – clearly an important topic for all businesses – Simon’s words have the ability to cut through and connect with a deep human instinct – the desire to do something positive to help others.

For me, that sums up what partnering with a charity like Sobell House is all about. The visibility of your company, alignment with a well-known and respected local charity, corporate social responsibility, building team spirit and the morale of your workforce – these are all invaluable by-products of deciding to do good things for others.

If you would like to know more about partnering with us please contact me on 01865 857066 or – I would love to hear from you.

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