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Working with household names can dramatically boost impact and growth

Originally published: April 2018

Small charities may dream of having the enormous reach of a multinational brand.

But the dream can become reality, as proven by The Running Charity, which aims to improve the lives of homeless young people through running and fitness programmes.

Speaking at a CharityComms event in London in early 2018, Alex Eagle, co-founder and chief executive of the U.K. charity, said the decision to pursue partnerships was a matter of necessity.

“We don’t have much budget. We’re a small organization and when we first started, we were doing this in our own free time,” he said. “We had no contacts, and we needed to find ways — with very limited resources — to grow and increase impact.”

Established as a charity in 2014, The Running Charity has just eight staff members and an annual budget of £261,000 in 2017, Eagle told MissionBox.

Yet the charity has attracted some high-profile names and worldwide brands to its cause. And the small size of the organization hasn’t stopped Eagle thinking big.

“Don’t think about what partnership is immediately — think about what it could be,” he advised the CharityComms audience.

The co-founder advises small charities to look for three types of potential partnerships:

The "platform" partnership — London Marathon

Eagle describes a platform partner as one that gives you a platform to communicate and showcase your work to a very wide audience. Since 2015, London Marathon has featured the charity’s case studies — young people they’ve helped, who are running in the race — in printed materials and in short video profiles. In 2017 Zamzam, a young refugee from Somalia who had ended up homeless in the U.K., shared her story; broadcast during national TV coverage of the marathon, her video reached up to 3 million viewers.

What makes London Marathon’s broadcast so valuable, said Eagle, is that it’s seen by an audience “who’ve switched on for a huge charity spectacle [and may be] ready to donate,” as well as by keen runners. In fact, the charity’s operations in Manchester and Nottingham started because runners in those cities heard about them via London Marathon communications and wanted to create their own local branch.

“None of our partners need us. We’re tiny,” acknowledges Eagle. Yet his charity still adds value to the sporting giant: “We can provide a more authentic story,” he explains. “There’s a stereotype of runners — white, middle class men. We can break barriers [and offer] diversity.”

The "network" partnership — Sported

A partner that brings influential people and a ready-made network to your door is gold dust.

For The Running Charity, that partner was Sported, which supports community sport and youth groups. For other sectors, a government body, network or umbrella organization might play a similar role.

Sported provided business planning support to The Running Charity in the early days. Since then, they've offered access to people and places “we’d never reach because we don’t have time, capacity or contacts to do so.”

Perhaps the most remarkable opportunity they offered was a connection to Prince Harry, who visited the charity in 2017 and even went for a run with a group of young people. His visit, unsurprisingly, attracted much media interest: Eagle said publicity around the occasion reached an estimated 500 million people.

But the opportunity doesn’t always have to include someone so high profile. “We were part of an advisory group when Sported were supporting the planning of the Big Half [Marathon]”, Eagle told Missionbox. “It’s little things as well, an email around a funding pot or free training — it all counts.”

The "elevator" partnership — Asics

An elevator partner, said Eagle, is one that boosts your organization’s credibility and legitimacy among a target audience. In his case, that’s the running community.

Having the international sportswear company Asics on board — which has been supporting The Running Charity since 2016 — means Eagle can turn up to meetings with the confidence and backing of a world-leading brand. “It’s probably one of the most respected brands around. People will think, if [Asics] can support them, there’s probably something behind them,” he said.

The company has also helped The Running Charity to increase participation by donating branded sports kit which the charity offers to those who complete the programme. “That’s a huge thing to help us drive impact,” said Eagle.

What about the benefits for the larger partner? Asics claims they “strive to make a positive difference in the communities where we live and work”, so supporting a good cause is a powerful manifestation of those values among their staff and beyond. They’ve also benefited from some great brand exposure, thanks to photos of Prince Harry dressed in Asics gear as he jogged alongside The Running Charity.

For more from CharityComms, see www.charitycomms.org.uk.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Writer/editor focusing on all things nonprofit and social enterprise. Youth media trainer. Storyteller through words and pictures.