The power of a purposeful partnership

17 May 2017

The five magic ingredients needed for a successful partnership

In July 2015, we entered into a partnership with disability charity Scope. The goal was simple – to transform the lives of disabled people and their families through digital technology. Today is a big and proud day in our partnership; we’re donating our shirt sponsorship of Southampton FC to Scope for the Saints' match against Manchester United – one of the biggest matches of the season.

We’re doing this to get behind disabled football fans to show that all football should be enjoyed all fans – no matter who you are.

This comes off the back of new research that shows that disabled football fans feel excluded from live games, as eight in ten have experienced some form of discrimination or issue relating to their disability at football stadiums across the UK.

Along with Scope, we want to change attitudes around disability and football and show that disabled football fans deserve the same experience as everyone else.  Together, we’re calling on fans, clubs and governing bodies to help improve the experiences of disabled fans at grounds across the UK and deliver everyday equality for disabled people. 

This moment represents the shift we’ve brought about in our approach to charity – going from 27 charity relationships to one over the last two years. By thinking strategically about how we do charity – putting our organisational aims at the centre of the partnership – we’re able to create a bigger social impact (for more on this, read this blog on the Huff Post by Scope Chief Executive, Mark Atkinson).

It also shows that we are a different type of sponsor in football and continues the work we’ve been doing to show we’re on the side of all fans, such as the Twenty’s Plenty initiative, where we subsidise tickets for away fans.

As the match approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the magic ingredients needed for a successful partnership.

You need a clear goal

Ultimately what bought our two organisations together was our shared vision – we both believe in the power of digital technology to improve people’s lives. The particular sweet spot was in the overlap of our strategies; Scope’s new strategy is to create a society where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. One of the key ways they want to achieve this is to harness the power of digital technology to improve lives and reach many more disabled people with the information they need. Virgin Media’s purpose is to ensure technology improves the lives and prospects of everyone - in other words, to make good things happen. Together our complementary strategies fuel our common goal - to ensure that we harness digital technology to support disabled people to reach their full potential. Our shared vision, strategy and values make coming to that common goal relatively easy.  

Ground your partnership in commercial aims

Our partnership has one clear, bold and ambitious goal; to transform the lives of disabled people through digital. To get this right we need to continue to unite our people, expertise and knowhow to collaborate to find solutions to the challenges disabled people face. Crucial to the success of our partnership is that it complements Virgin Media’s commercial aims and objectives.  As above, this football activation with Scope is part of a much bigger focus on showing that we are on the side of all football fans. It’s a narrative we started long before we entertained the opportunity.

Be clear about the benefits

Don’t hide away from the benefits a strategic charity partnership will bring. For us, our partnership delivers employee engagement, helps to build customer trust, customer loyalty and ultimately improves our brand reputation. For Scope, it allows them to run new and innovative services for disabled people while also benefitting from our digital expertise, powerful brand and the opportunity to engage our millions of customers with their cause.

Make sure it is unique to you

Too many charity partnerships could be between any business and charity. Our network, brand, people and history of innovation make us the right business to partner with Scope to achieve this particular goal.

Ban the bake sale

The launch of our partnership saw us move away from supporting lots of different charities to focusing on one cause with one partner. This focus enables us to have a much bigger impact and has seen us move away from bake sales and fancy dress (although not completely because it’s still fun) towards strategic mentoring, skill-swaps and collaboration.

Of course we still have a lot of fun and engagement from our people along the way – just like when our people carry an enormous Scope-branded Southampton football shirt around the pitch at half time during today’s game. It’s about doing things that have a meaningful impact. It hasn’t always been easy – I’m sure Scope will say the same - but taking this much more strategic approach is paying off. We’ve not completely cracked it yet. A good partnership has opportunities for scale and breadth – so watch this space. But for now, we’re literally changing the game for good.