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Partnership Lessons from the Sporting Arena


Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 9:30 am
Lina Caneva, Editor
Lessons learned from the sporting world are ensuring newly appointed Head of corporate partnerships at the McGrath Foundation, Ben Hirschfield keeps the Foundation's partnerships sustainable and he offers his top tips for other charities wanting to be competitive.

Wednesday, 20th May 2015
at 9:30 am
Lina Caneva, Editor


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Partnership Lessons from the Sporting Arena
Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 9:30 am

Lessons learned from the sporting world are ensuring newly appointed Head of corporate partnerships at the McGrath Foundation, Ben Hirschfield keeps the Foundation's partnerships sustainable and he offers his top tips for other charities wanting to be competitive.

In 2015, the McGrath Foundation is celebrating its tenth anniversary. The organisation raises money to place McGrath Breast Care Nurses in communities across Australia and increase breast awareness in Australians, with a particular emphasis on young women.

Commercial and sponsorship specialist Ben Hirschfeld has been appointed to the newly created role of Head of Corporate Partnerships as the organisation looks to diversify its fundraising streams and reach its anniversary goal of increasing the number of McGrath Breast Care Nurses to 110.

Hirschfield is a veteran of the sporting world. He spent nine years at Football Federation Australia where he was responsible for commercial partnerships across the business, including sponsors, broadcasters and state governments.

He then established the Australian arm of global sponsorship network to provide consultancy services to brands on marketing and sponsorship strategy – with a focus on building criteria against which all partnership decisions could be cross-referenced.

Enthusiastic about moving into the charity sector, Hirschfield spoke to Pro Bono Australia News about the lessons he has learned working in the sporting world and how he plans to ensure the Foundation’s partnerships remain sustainable.

“There’s a lot to consider,” he admits. “There’s a full spectrum of partnership options within the charity sector based on the potential audience that’s receiving the benefit from the charity, the brand – there’s a vast range of scale in brand awareness.

“I find it very exciting, there’s a lot of very talented and motivated people working in the sector and there’s a lot of Not for Profits that can tell a really strong, compelling story about how they came to be and what their mission is.

“It’s a very competitive space and very challenging…I think that’s a relatively unique demand in this particular sector.”

Hirschfield provides three top tips for charities wanting to be competitive in the partnerships game:

1. Understand what your teammates are playing for.

Understanding the motives and hopes of prospective corporate partners can be pivotal, Hirschfield has learned.

He says corporates have been most receptive where partnerships satisfy more than just a need to outwardly demonstrate a social conscience. He warns Not for Profits to avoid simply pitching with their social outcomes.

“I think it’s traditionally that a Not for Profit is able to tell a really good story…and then hope that resonates with the corporate or whoever they’re presenting to,” he says.

“However, understanding the corporate’s issues as related to business, brand, people and being able to tailor those solutions I think will gain better traction, and will ultiamtely lead to sustainable partnerships.”

Hirschfield breaks these needs down into three pillars:

  1. Brand – including sales, penetration and reaching new audiences

  2. Social Goodwill

  3. People – engaging staff, engaging clients and engaging other partners.

“We need to be looking at it as us solving their problems as well as them solving our problems.”

2.  Always play on the same team – but play by the rules.  

A partnership mentality with supporting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is essential for traction to be achieved, Hirschfield says.

“Bringing a strong partnership mentality and being accountable for delivering on those KPIs is something that I think can be brought across from a sporting environment,” he says.  

“In the sporting environment, particularly to get to the mass-consumer end of the scale, [it’s about] bringing specific KPIs to a partnership and having objectives and values backed up with research and then evaluating those partnerships and being accountable for the KPIs – rather than letting the corporate partners run with the rights that have been granted.

“How I’d approach partnerships is structuring a partnership that’s delivering value on both sides of the equation.

“That may be fundraising, that may be media, it may be product, it may be building awareness within a specific demographic. If you can have multidimensional layers to a partnership, and have objectives against each one, I think that can provide long-term sustainability.”

“I think from a reputational point of view, ensure that you’re partnered with a regulated business, [are] aware of risk and have a risk index in place that can be monitored.”

3. Aim for the same goals – and you’ll score more.

The importance of aligned values between partners and reflecting those values through shared activities cannot be estimated,Hirschfield says.

“[It’s about] aligning with brands with similar values and audience…and spending some decent time on constructing the right approach, the right target list, based on that alignment,” Hirschfield says.

“Then, looking at [in that partnership] what our potential challenges and targets might be from a brand point of view, or a corporate social responsibility point of view, or even a people point of view, and showing how our partnership can meet those challenges.”

There aren’t tremendous differences across sectors relying on corporate partnerships, he adds. Rather, it’s about the matching of organisational needs and capabilities.

“When I think of comparable sectors – arts, music, sport, entertainment – it’s less about looking at other sectors [and] it’s more about big brand versus small brand, above-the-line versus below-the-line exposure, broad awareness versus highly-targeted awareness, and there’s great people doing great things at all ends of the spectrum,” Hirschfield says.

“It might be at some of the more targeted ends that there are more innovative partnerships to learn from.”

He cites the McGrath Foundation’s Mt Franklin partnership as a standout in terms of alignment of values and output. Both partners achieve social and core business outcomes.

“Mt Franklin and Coca Cola Amatil directly fund three of our nurses, so they have a very tangible output of what their fundraising is actually contributing to. That really resonates, particularly amongst their staff.

“Then there’s the layer of activity that they do during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month….They use the partnership to engage with some of the suppliers they’re supplying product to, engaging them to get on board – so there’s a few different pillars to it, in that relationship, that provides a calendar of activity.”

Read more about the McGrath Foundation here.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

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