Making a Collaborative Difference: Building blocks
for corporate/voluntary sector partnerships
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
United Way Fraser Valley
Annual Community Conference
Salvation Army - Cascade Community Church
Abbotsford, British Columbia
Thursday, May 1, 2003
Thanks very much for the warm introduction Jack
too surprised to hear you would attend the dinner tonight,
as your commitment to community is well known in the Fraser
Valley. Having worked with Jack in Winnipeg several years
ago, my ears perked up when I heard about his involvement
with RBC's support of the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation's
annual gala. Apparently, the March 29th gala proved to be
another successful fundraiser for the Foundation, with proceeds
going towards the purchase of machines used to adjust cardiac
rhythm after cardiac distress for the Hospital. It's not only
great to see you again Jack, it's great to see voluntary/corporate
sector partnerships in action.
I'm delighted to join you tonight - to share some thoughts
about cultivating corporate/voluntary partnerships - making
the collaborative difference. First and foremost, I want to
thank United Way's Joelle Bremner for inviting me to speak
at this conference and for coordinating this event. I also
wish to extend a special thank you to Sue Khazaie, a member
of your Community Development Committee, who recommended me
as your keynote dinner speaker. My name must have "stuck"
with Sue, as we co-presented a workshop at the Family Resource
Programs (FRP Canada) national conference last October. The
pressure is on for yours truly to be better than good!
One more initial comment
the timing of this conference
- during National Volunteer Week - has not been lost on me,
nor has Volunteer Canada's motto, "The Value of One.
The Power of Many." Celebrating the tremendous impact
that Canada's 6.5 million volunteers have on 180,000 charitable/non-profit
organizations and our country, both individually and collectively,
is an honour and a privilege. RBC is proud to be an employer
that supports volunteer programs (which are on the rise) and
that recognizes our people for their community leadership.
Congratulations and thank you to all the volunteers and champions
in this room
and from coast to coast!
Before we get started, I must reassure everyone that you
won't be listening to my voice for the next hour or so. I'll
be moving on to my favourite part of the presentation - hearing
from you - within the first 22 minutes, so please jot down
your questions/comments during my remarks. Let's begin
Whenever I'm asked to speak (both inside/outside RBC), we
make it our business to find out more about people expectations.
Thanks to Joelle, who offered excellent feedback about what's
on Fraser Valley minds, I'll address the following questions
and elaborate in the Q/A:
1. What are the benefits of corporate engagement in social/community
building partnerships, for the corporate and voluntary sector
partners, as well as the community they both serve?
2. How do voluntary organizations communicate effectively
with the corporate sector, particularly when using the soft
language of social issues and affairs - language that doesn't
often fit in with the hard corporate language of profit and
bottom line margins?
3. What are some sure-fire strategies that voluntary organizations
can follow, to hurdle these kinds of challenges in seeking
or creating collaborative partnerships with the corporate
In general terms, I see two ongoing trends changing the relationship
between the corporate and voluntary sectors. The first trend
is that corporations around the world are increasingly conscious
of the benefit and indeed, the necessity of being, and being
seen as, good corporate citizens. This trend is growing at
a steady pace. The second trend is newer and growing much
corporations are more strategically and
actively engaged - contributing resources and knowledge as
well as dollars in order to help build a healthier society
- they're more focused on building win/win partnerships.
How do these trends impact the building of volunteer sector
relationships and the future of corporate philanthropy? Whatever
happens in the economy, the external political/social environment
and industry, will obviously impact the private, voluntary
and public sectors - it will impact strategies, decisions
and action plans; however, it's important to remember that
solid partnerships offer more flexibility and collaboration
in both good and uncertain times. More often than not, positive
interaction between the private/voluntary sectors is a reflection
of the relationship, more so than the environment.
I'm confident that the resources and expertise of the private
sector will continue to converge with the voluntary sector,
including resurgence in government support (federal, provincial
and municipal), which is already manifesting itself. The federal
government's Voluntary Sector Accord - the Call for a Strategic
Investment Approach, the Voluntary Sector Initiative (VSI)
and the Prime Minister's announcement last October re the
appointment of Minister Sheila Copps as leader of the government's
efforts to strengthen its relationship with this sector, indicate
another trend of sorts. For example, it's clear that the federal
government (via the February Budget) made a solid financial
commitment to early childhood education and care. Let me remind
you that in addition to the public/voluntary sectors, corporate
Canada has a significant stake in early years development
and child care.
On this note, it's gratifying to know that the Abbotsford
Understanding the Early Years Project is already hugely successful.
The announcement of a one-time $10M grant from the BC Government,
in partnership with Credit Unions of BC and United Way of
the Lower Mainland, to fund and support early childhood initiatives
under the Success By Six Program of United Way, in collaboration
with other United Ways in BC, is most exciting. This puts
the United Way Fraser Valley brand (a "community builder,
convener of change and lead supporter of social impact")
in the forefront of innovation and granting opportunities.
This project and others offer high visibility and measurable
outcomes, plus set the stage for building and strengthening
collaborative relationships with numerous partners in the
community and throughout the Fraser Valley. I'm particularly
pleased that Janet Tomayer, from Understanding the Early Years
project is here this evening.
The 2000 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating
tells us that millions of Canadian volunteers continue to
play a vital role in their communities. However, some significant
changes since the 1997 survey are of particular interest to
the corporate sector. According to Volunteer Canada, "the
voluntary sector has responded to the changing environment
by adopting corporate and public sector management practices
including: standards, codes of conduct, accountability and
transparency measures around program administration and demand
for evaluation, outcome and measurement." Borrowing best
practices is a good plan
As well, "volunteer boards
must respond to the challenge of acting as both supervisors
and strategic planners." Board governance is also a good
And although Canadian fundraising remained relatively strong
in 2002 (according to a new survey released on March 24, 2003
by the Association of Fundraising Professionals), "fundraisers
listed a myriad of reasons impacting their fundraising efforts
including increased competition for charitable dollars, government
budget cuts and drops in corporate support/sponsorship."
Many smart-branded organizations (like United Way) are operating
with the right leadership/people, well planned/executed campaigns,
new initiatives, sponsorships, foundation-driven donations
etc., and are reaping rewards and rising contributions - attracting
more corporate donors/support. Branding, borrowing best practices
and board governance will go a long way in making a difference
with corporate Canada - in pushing the right buttons, talking
the language and ultimately securing support.
The recent Canadian Forum on Volunteerism, held in Toronto
on April 15-16 (and sponsored by Volunteer Canada), brought
together hundreds of leadership volunteers from across the
country to explore a number of front burner issues. "Should
boards be held accountable? Does the media provide a disservice
to charities? Can public policy and programs ever safely count
on Canadians?" Even the direction and agendas of voluntary
sector conferences make an impression on the corporate sector.
Strong partnerships can have immense power. I don't pretend
to have all the answers, but because RBC Financial Group is
involved in partnerships that include representation from
various sectors, I will say that we're well on the way to
having a solid working knowledge of what makes a true partnership
work. If you're serious about creating/negotiating partnerships
with business, here are some proven strategies and tips -
building blocks - to consider:
1. Get to know your partners/your audience. A partnership
is a relationship where the players are stronger together
than they are alone. It's a two-way street and an ongoing
balance of power. Successful partnerships like successful
relationships take time and care. Your team should have a
base of knowledge about your potential corporate partners.
Who is the CEO? Who's on the board of Directors? Who are the
major influencers? What do they care about? What are their
hot buttons/target markets? What is the corporation's community
involvement? This means ongoing research, a robust database
or someone to manage the information. It makes a difference
to know what motivates people/organizations, otherwise you
can't engage in relevant communication with them. When you're
developing proposals, messages or positions, remember to incorporate
private sector language. Talk to their policies, their interests
and their priorities. Read their literature/surf their web
sites. Align your cause and timing with their agenda.
2. Know the issues and keep current. Are you familiar enough
with your own United Way facts/issues, not to mention those
of the broader United Way and voluntary sector? Are you familiar
with a potential partner's donations/sponsorships focus? Do
you know a key contact in target corporations? Do you know
key contacts in the private sector that can refer you to other
partners - help make the introductions? Do you know your federal,
provincial and municipal government contacts? Should you know?
I suggest you should. Know the pulse of the public, the media
and your constituencies.
3. Ask partners for advice. If you want a corporation's money,
get the right people ("influencers") interested.
Asking for advice is an incredible compliment to people. It's
amazing how quickly money will follow once a person and a
corporation's passion is engaged in a cause or a project.
4. Don't just ask for money. Treat partners the way you want
to be treated. Look beyond a partner's chequebook and think
community investment. Engage people's minds and their expertise.
5. Share what you know and keep in touch. One of the most
precious assets we all have is our intellectual capital-the
value of what we carry between our ears. Share your expertise
with corporate partners. Think long-term. Let partners know
how you're doing - this is another way to say thank you. Show
partners that you're making a difference in your community
and that they've made the right choice by investing time and
resources in United Way programs.
What's the best way to get in the door at executive levels?
If you have a connection, this usually helps. Develop a strategy:
What are your objectives? What are the principles/priorities
for funding? What is your project description, goals/activities
and budget? What is your strategic and communications plan?
What are your expected results and outcomes? What about national
partnerships/collaboration? Do you have letters of support?
Have you considered joining forces with similar interest groups?
In a nutshell, be prepared, know your "sound bites",
network, write articles and get your name on invitation lists,
i.e., corporate annual meetings etc. If I can be of support,
please let me know
Working together, getting connected and staying focused all
comes down to leadership and communication. We can't achieve
great things alone. I also suggest you take a look at our
Definitive Guide to Successful Alliances and Partnerships.
Although it's designed as a sourcebook for successful small
businesses and entrepreneurs, you'll be pleasantly surprised
at how helpful it is to other sectors (this is what people
tell me). I brought a few booklets with me
you can obtain
additional copies through RBC branches/business centres.
In 1999, RBC launched a publication called Community Report.
In 2003, it's been re-named the Corporate Responsibility Report
(you received a copy in your delegate kit). The difference
is important. Four years ago, we highlighted caring stories
about: RBC people who give back to the community, support
for aboriginal peoples, youth and education, people with disabilities,
as well as investments in health care, the arts and community
economic development. These stories are still there.
In 2003, corporate responsibility is more encompassing; it
includes good governance, operating with ethical business
practices, creating and maintaining employment, providing
access to products/services for special needs clients, guarding
the environment and protecting clients with privacy and problem
resolution. Our thinking and doing continues to evolve.
Four years ago, our CEO's message in the Report was titled
Beyond the Bottom Line
four years later it's Building
a Knowledge Society. Again, the difference is important. Nurturing
knowledgeable employees, clients, business/government/voluntary
sector partners, as well as community infrastructures that
consist of bright and innovative people, is in our interest
- the national interest. Our thinking and doing continues
to evolve. Joelle, I encourage you to ask your question about
corporate social responsibility, as it's an important element
to the partnership equation.
When we invest in the training and development of our own
employees - we're building knowledge. When our people serve
on voluntary sector boards, we're building knowledge. When
corporations support the voluntary sector, that's also building
knowledge. By contributing both financial and human capital
to community institutions, corporations can help embrace a
true knowledge society. RBC's Employee Volunteer Grants Program
is one way we support and encourage vital community connections.
Employees that devote a minimum of 40 hours a year to a registered
charity are eligible for a $500 RBC grant donated to the organization
in their honour.
The underlying goal of our corporate citizenship programs
is prosperity for Canada/Canadians. To achieve this, we support
education and learning, as prosperity depends on well-developed
minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation.
We continue to foster relationships with business, government,
communities and our own employees to help meet our goals.
Making a community difference is a shared responsibility.
Partnerships encourage business to be catalysts for change
- to show their heart. What a great way to build a civic/civil
society and promote social development. The bottom line is
that best practices are almost always about partnerships.
For example, the RBC Foundation is providing $2 million
to 54 after-school programs in 32 communities for 2002-2003
(there are currently 10 programs in British Columbia). This
community investment is part of our ongoing commitment to
children and education. RBC is there to help kids continue
learning after the school-bell rings. These after-school programs
offer varied activities that go beyond the three Rs, such
as cooking and art classes, organized sports and computer
tutoring - activities that address a wide-range of children's
needs in order to develop fully.
There's always a place for business in the community as corporations
(large, small and in between) are part of the community. Just
ask Gord Nixon, RBC Financial Group's President and CEO, not
to mention 2002 Campaign Chair for United Way of Greater Toronto.
Just ask RBC's Ben Langelaar who served on your Cabinet last
year. Just ask RBC's Karen Borring-Olsen, who's also here
United Way Fraser Valley has a unique community contribution
to make. The people in this room have a unique contribution
to make: Fiona Brett (your 2003 Cabinet Chair), Stephanie
Ediger (Mission Hospice Society, Ursula Batke (Abbotsford
Foundation), Jenny Brickwood (Fraser Valley Child Development
Centre), Paul Barrel, Bob Dyck and Davit Gobin (Abbotsford
Printing), Janet Vickers, your conference site host, John
McEwan - if only there was time to name each and every one
of you. Glenn Hope, I think you, Robbie Moore and United Way
Fraser Valley are surrounded by volunteer and staff champions!
By the way, I've mentioned several people in my remarks this
evening, as I also subscribe to United Way Fraser Valley's
successful 2002 campaign theme, "It's About People."
On April 23rd, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region
and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area accepted
a corporate donation of $40,000 from Best Buy, a division
of Burnaby, BC-based Best Buy Canada Ltd. United Way wins
as the donation helps support various programs/initiatives
that contribute to the development of children. Big Brothers
Big Sisters wins as Best Buy's commitment to the In-School
Mentoring program will help the recruitment of new mentors.
And Best Buy wins, as it's committed to kids and community
and education. What can I say other than, what a marvelous
collaborative partnerships at work story! Talk about making
Now let's get talking about your ideas, business plan opportunities
and best practices
I really want to hear from you! Thank