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Relationships between charities and clubs in the football industry are increasing every season. Unicef work with Manchester United, Barcelona and others, Sunderland partner with Invest in Africa and Aston Villa have worked with the Acorns hospice to name but a few. So the space of social responsibility on the clubs perspective is widely acknowledged now, but how many clubs can really view the social opportunity within these partnerships?

Relationships between charities and clubs in the football industry are increasing every season. Unicef work with Manchester United, Barcelona and others, Sunderland partner with Invest in Africa and Aston Villa have worked with the Acorns hospice to name but a few. So the space of social responsibility on the clubs perspective is widely acknowledged now, but how many clubs can really view the social opportunity within these partnerships?

Many are successful for both parties but a lot of opportunities are wasted for both the club and charity as there is still a general lack of understanding about each other’s business. Some of the highest profile charities still go to clubs with requests for player appearances on a Saturday afternoon, to ask for money directly from the player’s salaries and one charity even wrote to FIFA asking them to change the name of the World Cup!

It is not just the fault of the charities however. Clubs on the whole, just as many other private businesses in the corporate side of football, still expect charities to pay for many rights or to contribute in ways beyond their capabilities. The basic understanding of what resources charities have at their disposal is often missing.

The aforementioned successful partnerships between clubs and charities have delivered results for both parties and are not based around player appearances at golf days and cash. Often a club can deliver huge amounts for their charity partner at very little direct cost.

Working with a charity or community project is far more than handing over a cheque with a player posing for a photograph. Charities themselves are becoming more and more professional and are starting to want to understand what works best for the players and clubs. Clubs themselves are also starting to write CSR strategies within their own business plans. Whilst this is in itself frustrates the likes of people like us, because CSR in fact should be just a consideration in the overall marketing plan of any organisation anyway, at least it shows conscious effort to develop this social opportunity in line with the business objectives of the club.

We believe strongly that with time and effort put into these relationships the clubs can receive excellent publicity and their brands can often become synonymous with being based at the heart of their community as a club that cares. This is not something that goes unnoticed by sponsors who are increasingly wanting to support these partnerships which provide excellent marketing opportunities if managed correctly. There are very few opportunities left within the game for sponsorship. Engaging fans and people is key, so therefore a community work and charity partnership is an area still to be fully exploited.

Our experiences of working for sponsors, clubs, players and charitable projects show us that these parties can come together to create sustainable and successful relationships. Matching the right organisations is key, especially when it comes to managing project expectations, but even more crucial is the management of communications between these organisations. The language spoken within the commercial department of a club compared to that in a football charity is completely different. A likeness could be drawn if you prefer to marketing vs design departments or IT and operations. They all should and ultimately do get along, but struggle to understand one another! Much like strong regional dialects in the same spoken language.

Charities really can work to educate young people under the name of a player or a club with the financial support of a brand. Back in Football’s charity partners deliver to hundreds of thousands of children across the world each year and all use football as the platform to engage those young people. The football industry as a whole could engage so much more in those projects. Sure, it is charitable and giving and it makes you feel good, which is why we all give a little here and there to a charity, but more importantly in this context it makes good business sense for football clubs too.

There is lot more that both clubs and charities can do to understand one another, but the opportunity for both to really develop their businesses as a result of a successful partnership will continue to grow as the commercial playground reaches saturation and commercial deals require more fan and community engagement.

These are the thoughts of Back in Football. Discover more by following them on Twitter @backinfootball.

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