The power of framing – how to influence sceptical corporates

Do you find it difficult to help key companies want to build valuable partnerships with your charity? A major challenge for the ambitious corporate fundraiser is that even if you can get in front of the relevant decision-maker (eg Marketing Director rather than only CSR team), it can be surprisingly hard to help them see you as a partner that brings genuine commercial value. However much you say you are about partnership, the risk is that they usually still think you’re asking for a philanthropic hand-out or some employee fundraising.

The first step is to not be surprised if they do not ‘get’ it – most people have been conditioned to only think of ‘charities’ in one way – the philanthropic way.

The problem is unless you are unshakeably certain and able to be persuasive that your charity does help solve commercial challenges, their disbelief will win the day. They’ll thank you for the meeting but refer you to their CSR criteria or nod and say they’ll ‘get back to you’.

If this scenario sounds familiar, then one of the most powerful ways to improve your influencing results, as we practice on the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme, is to increase your certainty of the value you offer. Psychologically, you must become ‘The Prize’.

On the Programme, we also practice using social proof examples of other powerful partnerships, which helps them feel the value that partnership brings. But it’s hard to do justice to these unless you first make sure your confidence on the subject is rock solid. When your certainty is stronger than their uncertainty, you can help them start to see their opportunity.

If currently you struggle to convey with conviction why these partnerships work, Phil Barden’s excellent book Decoded, which explores the science of buying behaviour, can only help.

The frame affects how we perceive value

For example, he explains the concept of framing by presenting two squares, one centimetre by one centimetre. He informs us that objectively, the two squares are an identical tone of grey. But because one square is surrounded by a background frame of a dark grey and the other is framed by a background of a very light grey, in contrast our eyes subjectively cannot help but perceive the two central squares to be different tones. In this way he demonstrates that the way something is framed changes the way it is perceived.

He then shows us two more squares. In one is the Wild Bean Café logo and in the other is the Starbucks logo. Around the Wild Bean Café logo is a frame which has the meaning ‘coffee’ and around the Starbucks one is the frame which has the meaning ‘Short holiday’. Because Starbucks invests in imbuing its brand and customer experience as something of a treat, Barden neatly demonstrates why it is that some people happily pay twice as much for a cup of coffee in that shop.

What has this got to do with fundraising? Because if Starbucks are able to achieve these dramatically higher profit margins by ascribing a different meaning or frame compared to other companies, and a certain cola company is able to cause billions of people to link the meaning ‘happiness’ to their sugary carbonated drink, then unequivocally partnerships with charities can help change the way commercial brands are perceived.

One example is the very clever partnership between Ikea and Homes for Hope. Another is the long-standing partnership between Fairy and Make a Wish Foundation, which to date has raised over £1.35 million for the charity’s work. Obviously the partnership raises money for the charity, but it is helpful to get really clear on how the partnership is so valuable to the company. There are several tactical benefits, including achieving standout on the shelf, and increasing profit per bottle, as during the promotional month, Fairy will not need to offer a discount to encourage sales.

But at the heart of this, when you think about it, washing up liquid is just detergent. However well it cleans, the detergent itself contains no emotion. In this context, we can see why it makes such commercial sense for P and G to frame its Fairy bottles with an organisation that is associated with intense emotions like caring.

No wonder the partnership has been running for the last 12 years and shows no sign of slowing down.