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Business, charities find third way

COMMUNITY groups and business are coming together as both sectors realise the benefits of partnerships.

The need for such collaboration is most urgent in the not-for-profit sector, which is increasingly in demand throughout Western Australia. Almost 60 per cent of the State’s community service needs are delivered by not-for-profit organisations.

The sector adds about $1 billion to the State’s economy.

In the UK and some of the eastern States there is a growing push for a third way – partnerships between business and not-for-profit operators.

For the community groups the benefits include some regular, long-term support and, more important in some cases, increased opportunities to network.

From the business point of view the benefits include the possibility of greater sales. Research indicates that customers are prepared to support companies that are seen to have a social conscience and increased staff morale.

An organisation called Partnerships WA has been created to help develop this partnership trend.

It released a report last week that shows the results of two years of research into the state of play in business and community partnerships in WA.

The research discovered that: a majority of partnership in WA follow a traditional path of short-term sponsorship or marketing relationships; fewer partnerships follow a model of longer-term relationships that lead to sustainable outcomes; the main pattern of corporate involvement is donations, goods and services, staff time and marketing; and there are few examples of partnerships based on equality in the relationship.

The research found that community groups were predominantly the drivers of these partnerships and did most of the relationship building. It also found that businesses were wary of being told what they had to do and of creating community organisations that were dependent on business.

Some businesses have indicated a preference to enter into long-term partnerships to achieve a specific outcome.

Rio Tinto’s Rio Tinto Future Fund, for example, will only enter into community projects if there is a partnership opportunity.

Those projects are predominantly environmentally based.

Wesfarmers has also been held up as an example for its approach to charity work and its decision to concentrate on the arts.

Woodside, too, is taking the partnership approach, with many of its projects focusing on youth.

WA Council of Social Services’ Joel Levin said one of the drivers for the push for partnerships was the growth in the community services sector.

“While the number of community service organisations has increased, the amount of money available to the sector has not,” he said.

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there has been a 15 per cent reduction in the number of government workers doing community service over the past four years.

“At the same time there has been a 25 per cent increase in not-for-profit workers taking it on.”

One of the key things from the business perspective is that not-for-profit groups have to be seen to be more businesslike.

There have been changes , although some organisations are finding it difficult.

Salvation Army spokesman Major Neil Venables said: “From our perspective the Salvos don’t want to sell their soul but from the business perspective they want a little soul.

“It’s a matter of finding a balance.”

The Salvation Army has begun a drive to enter into more business partnerships and has developed relationships with Alinta and Enjo.

Mission Australia State manager WA Anne Russell-Brown said the mission had always entered into relationships with the corporate sector.

“I think these relationships will start to become more formal,” she said.

“I think there will come a time when organisations will start saying: ‘If you don’t have a collaborative approach then we don’t want to get involved’.”

Marketforce chairman Howard Read, who is also a member of the Partnerships WA steering committee, said with growing education standards within the community came a greater push towards companies becoming more socially responsible. This was driving a push towards partnerships, he said.

“It’s also companies realising that if they want to be successful they must embrace some of these ideas,” Mr Read said.

“With the ageing community and the higher resources the government is applying to fund that, and the greater accountability of government and how they spend their funds, it’s obvious there’s a lot of pressure on government to provide assistance in these areas and they won’t be able to cover the ground.

“The businesses that are more advanced in their thinking will use this to their advantage.”

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