Leadership: Corporate partnerships can motivate young people

UK Youth has been around for 100 years. To have survived and thrived as a charity for so long, we've always had to look for new ways of funding the important work we, and our network, do with young people.

Now, I don't claim to have been around to see many of those changes, but even as a relative newcomer to the sector I know the shifts we have seen over recent months have been on a significant scale.

Many of the traditional funding streams have either gone or are being phased out, while the money that is around is harder to get hold of as more organisations are chasing it. All in all, it's a tough time to be a charity working to support young people.

Conscious of these changes, we have had to look for new ways of bringing in money. We are now building relationships with corporate partners including O2, B&Q, Barclays, Nokia, Starbucks and UPS. The key to each of the programmes we are developing with these partners is that we each work to our respective strengths.

We use our expertise and experience of working with young people and they use their skills and resources as large multinational companies to help us support young people. Our vision is that as a national organisation we can use the support from these businesses and then pass this onto our network through the local youth clubs and projects they run, in the form of exciting new opportunities.

We can also use the brand of a corporate – often more motivating to young people than our own brand - to generate extra interest in our programmes.

But this hasn't been easy on a number of fronts. Putting aside the effort to secure a new partnership, and working with corporate partners rather than traditional funders, presents a whole set of challenges to our workforce.

It is a transition we are still working through at UK Youth, and we learn something new every day. Change is happening fast and it can be a struggle to ensure we have good lines of communication with staff and supporters.

Paradoxically, working with corporates can be both demandingly fast, with challenging deadlines and corporate timetables to contend with; and frustratingly slow, with seemingly endless contract negotiations and corporate compliance issues. Intellectual property and exclusivity, for instance, are other matters that we simply haven't had to deal with before.

On the other hand, we can now draw on a wealth of volunteer hours and a bank of people to support our work through fundraising that we never had from previous funders.

In addition, we now have access to the widest possible range of skills and experiences to support our charity.

We ran a workshop recently with one of our partners, B&Q, and some of our associations and staff, to look at ways of making the most of a corporate relationship. It was very valuable to look at the partnership from both perspectives and is informing our work as we go forward.

Charlotte Hill, chief executive, UK Youth


  • Agree clear outcomes, recognise capacity and resources – be realistic from the outset about what you can genuinely achieve from both sides and what resources it will take to do so
  • Set realistic timetables – these have to work for both sides of the partnership. We understand there are corporate timetables to stick to but young people can't always fit into those
  • Understand each other and ensure you have shared values and goals – try to embed your work across each other's organisations. Look for the potential to support each other beyond the specific piece of work you are doing together
  • Celebrate success and share good news – this doesn't just have to be about the programme you are doing together. Make it a real partnership
  • Be confident in your expertise – don't just say yes to everything. The corporate partner is working with you for a reason, because of the experience and expertise of your organisation. Ensure that you remain loyal to that expertise.

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