Member Blog: June 2023 – Matthew Lagden

June 1, 2023

How do we choose our corporate partners?

In his latest blog, CEO Matthew Lagden explains the rational behind the development of the ILM’s Corporate Partner programme

Our last membership survey saw some members raise interesting points about our Corporate Partner programme. They wanted to know how we recruit them, what the criteria are and how the system works.

All very fair questions and ones I thought it would be good to address, so everyone is aware of the process.

At its heart, the Corporate Partner (CP) programme is for the benefit of members and it’s something we view as a long-term relationship, which is why we go to great lengths to be very selective about who joins the programme.

Yes, over the past 18 months or so, we have taken more CPs on board, but we have good reason for this, as you will see later.

It’s important for members to know that we do not actively seek new CPs, we don’t advertise the partnership programme and every year we reject more organisations than we accept as new partners.

Typically, CPs are recommended to us by a member and that’s usually because they have used them or come across them and really liked them. Ideally, we’re looking for at least two members who will have had positive dealings or are at least aware of the firm.

Once they are on our radar, we spend some considerable time keeping a watching brief, effectively ‘checking them out’ to gauge what sort of experiences people are having.

If we do hear anything negative, we simply won’t pursue it any further. The welfare of – and respect for – our members is always going to be paramount, so the last thing we want to do is bring a new CP into the fold and have to remove them for whatever reason.

Points of distinction

Right from the start we are looking for a CP that brings something different to the partnership programme that isn’t already there.

It might be that it focuses on an area of law where we are currently under-represented, or it can add value to our charity members in sectors that are more niche.

For example, over the last two years we have gained around 40 university members, so it made sense to take on a CP with a specialist knowledge of that market.

We’ve seen growth in other sectors too, such as faith-based charities, military charities and hospices (amongst others), and it’s important that those members have a partner they feel comfortable with and who understands their particular issues.

Location, location, location

Having a good geographical spread is essential. We are committed to having a CP in all four nations and ideally, we want to be represented in each of the major cities and across all the regions.

I think that’s especially important for smaller charities – if they are based in the West Midlands, they want access to a CP in Birmingham which understands local issues. Some members have flagged up the potential benefits of having a CP in Dublin and that is something we are beginning to look into.

Just being based in a particular location or having a specialist area of expertise certainly doesn’t guarantee becoming a CP, but they are differentiating factors when deciding how we can best serve our members.

Commitment to training

If a potential new CP ticks all the boxes so far, then we open a conversation with them.

We make it very clear from the start that they MUST be able to support the learning of our members. That is critical and non-negotiable. If they can’t meet that requirement, the conversation stops there.

We look at the material they already produce, such as webinars, guidance notes, newsletters; the type of events they are running; the information they can provide for our member newsletters…and so on.

There has to be synergy because that is at the core of the partnership.

We’re also looking for a broader commitment to charities overall – a strong culture of charitable giving and a general understanding of the sector will always be helpful.

The ‘waiting room’

Presuming the above criteria can be met, we move to what we call the ‘waiting room’ stage. A three-month period during which time prospective CPs receive the newsletter, can attend webinars and events and generally decide if they have the will and the commitment to join us on a more formal basis – and that works both ways.

During this time, they will be asked to provide around six months’ worth of content, material that will give them a strong launch opportunity and help develop their profile among members. They must also commit to discounting their rates for ILM members.

It’s quite a rigorous process – and underlines how seriously we expect them to contribute.

The green light

The final stage is for their CP membership to be approved by the Board, it’s always a decision taken ‘in the round’ where we weigh up the value and benefits they are likely to bring before saying the final yes.

While there is not an official contract, we provide guidance outlining our expectations and advice on how to make the most of the partnership – for example by highlighting their USPs.

Importantly, it also includes our complaints procedure. And yes, for those that are asking…we do investigate complaints, and yes, we do not hesitate to take action against individuals and firms who contravene our guidelines.

CP reviews are carried out annually and, even if formal action is not taken at the time, we will bear any complaints or negative comments in mind so we can address them if deemed necessary.

One classic complaint is that members are unable to deal directly with a partner, something we find disappointing as we are very clear that having direct access to a named partner is a key point of the partnership programme.

It may simply be that a firm has taken on too much work or is short-staffed at certain periods, but the issue needs to be raised as a red flag and if the situation still hasn’t changed by the following year then we may need to have a different conversation.

Above, our objective is to keep CPs in the programme because we want members to build a long-term relationship with them, but the absolute essential is to make sure the highest possible standards of service are maintained.

 What next?

Our CP programme is now bigger than it has ever been, but I believe the expansion has been done in a very considered way to bring additional benefits and new skills to our growing membership.

Those who were invited to join did so because we recognised there were gaps in our coverage, client types and geographical spread – I am confident that today the breadth and spread of that expertise is better than it ever has been.

Will there be more CPs joining? It would be remiss of me to say absolutely not, but right now we have closed the application process. If we feel there is still a members’ need that isn’t being met, then we would consider it, but that must be in the overall context of wider benefits to the CP programme.

Becoming an ILM Corporate Partner must be (and is) seen as a badge of honour and I am personally very proud that our CPs take it seriously.

Together our CPs help our member charities to achieve great things – long may that relationship continue.

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