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Making a Collaborative Difference:
Building blocks for corporate/voluntary sector partnerships


Charlie Coffey
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…I wasn't 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 sector?

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 more rapidly…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 plan…

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 tonight.

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 a difference!

Now let's get talking about your ideas, business plan opportunities and best practices…I really want to hear from you! Thank you.

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