If I were to use the term ‘commercial participator’, how many of you would know what I meant? Quite a few of you would think I was referring to corporate partnerships – those amazing companies that champion your cause to help raise funds and demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. Only a few of you would recognise the term. And yet so many charities have commercial participator relationships in place without realising and without recognising how to spot the good guys, what the legislation around the relationship is, and what to do to protect themselves from the sharks.
What is a commercial participator?
So what exactly is a commercial participator? The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 gives a wordy definition, but essentially it’s a company that, as a regular part of its everyday business, engages in a promotional venture a charity will benefit from.
That could be a building society charity savings account where the named charity will receive a share of interest earned. Or it could be a company like the one I work for, Majestic Publications, which is able to create publications for charities free of charge by selling advertising space to local companies to cover the production costs.
These commercial participators use the charity’s name and logo, and provide them with a service, funds or product, but they also benefit financially themselves. This is different to a corporate partnership, where a company chooses to support a charity over and above the course of their everyday business.
Finding the right commercial participator is vital
So what value do commercial participators offer charities? Good ones can raise your charity’s profile, enhance its reputation, establish useful corporate links and, most importantly, increase fundraising income. They can also provide goods and services that your organisation may not have the skillset to do or the budget to commission.
It’s important to remember that these companies represent your organisation in the wider community - and your reputation is too valuable to compromise. Trust and integrity are at the heart of why a person supports a charity. If confidence is shaken, then the ripple can be felt throughout the sector.
Each of the charities that we work with throughout the UK is fiercely protective of its reputation. As a company, we make sure that we are equally protective on their behalf.
In this world of online news and social media, gone is the idea that today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s chip wrappers. A bad news story is around forever, no matter how wonderful your organisation is or how long you’ve been serving the public.
How to choose the right commercial participator
Every charity needs to know who they’re getting into bed with and how that commercial participator will represent and champion them. They may have style but do they have substance? Make sure you’re not distracted by a commercial participator promising the world. They may make the promise – but do they deliver?
When choosing a company to work with, make sure that you first:
- Do your homework. Research the company online and check their website. Think about it: would you book a hotel these days without first referring to Tripadvisor?
- Speak to your fundraising networks to see if any other charities have worked with the company you’re considering. Show that you’ve done your due diligence to protect your organisation’s reputation by doing some digging.
- Ask the difficult questions. If the company responds positively and is transparent in its answers and business dealings, then you’re off to a good start - but that shouldn’t be the end of your investigation.
- Understand your legal obligations and make sure that the commercial participator knows and understands them, too.
Displaying the Fundraising Regulator’s fundraising badge does not necessarily mean that commercial participator is the right fit for your charity. They may not have the right ethics, values or working practices to be acting on your behalf.
A commercial participator can be a wonderful addition to your fundraising strategy, but don’t be afraid to investigate instead of just taking them at their word.
Jane Montague is a Director at Majestic Publications (@MajesticPubl) and Lead Consultant at the newly formed Jane Montague Consultancy (@JMCharityAdvice). If you’d like to know more about the new regulations covering the corporate relationships across your charity, get in touch with Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org