THE IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL–BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS

Did you know that education received the greatest – and growing – share of CSI funding during 2014–2015 in South Africa?

Partnerships between schools and  businesses can include a wide variety of activities.

These partnerships may involve staff development, guidance, mentoring, tutoring, incentives and awards, or they may provide material and financial resources for specific projects or events. Though the types of partnership activities can vary widely, the common goal of virtually all school–business partnerships is to improve the education experience of learners that can have a very powerful impact on the community.

A partnership can be defined as a mutually supportive relationship between a business and a school in which the partners commit themselves to specific goals and activities intended to benefit learners and schools. In most cases, partnering is a win-win situation for all involved parties. In addition to improving the education experience, the business partners will frequently realise the benefits, such as enhanced goodwill and a stronger presence in the community.

Where to start

Assess your school/learners’ needs

Determine whether your school/learners have unmet needs and whether forming a business partnership to meet those needs would provide a solution and enhance the learner experience. Consider the type of partnership and the level of partnership that would best meet those needs e.g. direct funding, professional development, donation of resources, manpower, mentoring etc.

Identify and research potential partners

Once a need has been identified, determine whether there are businesses within the local community that can help to meet that need. In most cases the type of need will determine the type of partner you seek.

You need to do some research on local businesses with a strong presence within your community, focusing on what they do; whether they are already involved in the community or school activities or any other information that might be useful when going into a partnership. It is also important to consider the size of the business. Businesses of all sizes (even the greengrocer or the funeral parlour) may have resources to contribute, but the amount will vary greatly depending on the business size. If a project needs R100 000, a large corporate company is probably the best choice; if a project needs R15 000, any number of local small businesses might be able to help. In some cases it might be appropriate to engage with more than one business to meet a particular need. Don’t be afraid to reach out to unique and diverse business partners.

It is also very important to consider whether partnering with a particular business is appropriate and if there are any issues that would impact your community’s approval of the partnership.

Make community connections

One way to lay the groundwork for partnerships is to get to know local business people.

Leverage on personal relationships. It is important that you involve the School Governing Body (SGB) as well as parents and teachers for ideas and relationships that they have developed that will benefit the school. They may also have contacts at businesses on your list of targeted prospects.

It is also important to find out if any of the business people on your list are also parents of children in your school. Businesses very often prefer to contribute to schools which their employees’ children attend. This can foster a strong connection between the business and the school.

There are usually several organisations or associations in every city or town that provide networking opportunities for business people. Also look at traditional business organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce etc. Principals and other school officials should consider joining these organisations and becoming a visible participant.

Make them part of your vision for your school

You might not realise it yet, but your school provides a great way for people to escape the routine and get caught up in a larger story and vision for the future.  Think about it – what work are you doing at your school that makes it so compelling?  Teaching children to be future leaders, doctors, academics, parents?  Are you serving disadvantaged children or communities?

People want to get caught up in your vision… so let them!  Cast a big vision and paint a big picture. Don’t assume that just because someone went to your school or sent their kids there that they are caught up in your vision.  You need to cast a big story for potential partners, tell them why you need the money, and what amazing things you will be able to do with it.

Build strong relationships

Building strong relationships is fundamental to successful partnerships. 

Sure, you can send proposals to many businesses twice a year, but the real money comes on the back end as you develop relationships with those businesses who responded to your initial prospecting letter. The money is in the relationship.

A R50 000 cheque is nice, but building a strong relationship that results in 100 volunteer hours, R50 000 in donations, and several new contacts, all over three or four years, would be much more valuable. Build relationships that last, whenever possible.

The stronger the relationship is, the more likely the business is to get involved in your school and become a lifelong supporter of your cause.

It is important that you identify one or two key decision makers at the business or organisation to build a relationship with.  Once you get the decision maker on board, you will get the business on board.  As your relationship with the person strengthens, so too will your school’s relationship with the business. Relationships are built one-on-one.

People like to feel like part of a team.  Everyone wants to feel like they are joined in a relationship with other people who are all marching towards a common goal.

Thus, one of the key strategies for your relationship building efforts should be to make people feel like part of your team.  Ask them for their suggestions. Keep them constantly in the loop.  Invite them to events at your school.  Make them feel like you’re all one big team working towards a common vision.

How do I approach a business?

Some people think they can just write a proposal, send it out to all the businesses in their community, and, magically, a positive response will roll in. It doesn't work that way. Just think about the pile of mail and requests every business gets.

You need to use an integrated approach. Use phone calls, visits, mail, and email interchangeably according to the circumstances. Just one contact method will not work.

  • Call the business and ask who handles their marketing, their charitable contributions, or their sponsorships and how you should contact them.
  • Set up an appointment to see the relevant person.
  • Prepare a proposal to present to them and to leave behind for them to look over.

Have someone proofread your proposal to check for grammar, typos, spelling, etc.

  • Present your proposal at the meeting.
  • Be enthusiastic. If you are enthusiastic about the cause it will shine through and will be infectious to people around you.
  • If you don't get a commitment at that point, leave some prepared materials and details.
  • Immediately after your visit, thank them with a short note for their kind consideration of your request and invite them to visit your school and meet your staff and learners.
  • Then follow up with a phone call a week or two later.
  • Keep doing that until you think that there is definitely no chance of support from that business.
  • Once you reach a partnership agreement with a business, send a thank you letter that confirms what each party will provide and when.
  • Send your partners updates on your planning during the period running up to the event/project .Encourage them to call you if they have any questions. If the sponsor does call, make sure that their questions are answered quickly.
  • Invite representatives of the business to school events or to address your learners.
  • Give your partners plenty of publicity...even above and beyond what the agreement calls for.

What motivates businesses to partner with schools?                        

Knowing what motivates businesses to get involved with schools can help you plan your approach to them. There are many business benefits but here are the most common:

  • Claim points for B-BBEE certificate
  • Increasing brand loyalty.
  • Brand differentiation.
  • Changing/strengthening the brand image.
  • Creating company or product awareness and visibility.
  • Driving retail traffic or sales.
  • Highlighting community responsibility or corporate social responsibility.
  • Demonstrating the ’heart’ of the company and enhancing their credibility.
  • Building new and deeper community networks.
  • Enhancing the company's credibility and educating the public about products and services.

Macmillan Education South Africa can assist you in developing partnerships with businesses in order to bring about positive and sustainable change in your school.

Macmillan Education has an expert team available that can assist your school to:

  • determine your school/learners’ needs
  • identify products or services that can fulfil these needs
  • identify potential business partners and match your school/learner’s needs with  their CSI programmes and initiatives
  • draft a letter or proposal to present to businesses.

The content of your letter or proposal is very important and needs to include the following information

  • How products and services needed will tie in with government priorities.
  • The specific educational needs that the product or service will fulfil.
  • The expected outcomes and the impact it will have on the school and the community.
  • Why the company should get involved.
  • How the company will benefit from this partnership.

You are welcome to contact the following people at Macmillan Education should you need our assistance:

Belinda Germishuizen
Tel: 011 731 3359
Cell: 084 5110442
Email: germishuizenb@macmillan.co.za

Caren Maree
Tel: 011 7313454
Cell: 072 786 0864
Email: mareec@macmillan.co.za