Sunday, December 8, 2019Canada's Leading Online Business Magazine

What Does it Mean to Truly Partner

By Kevin Huhn

What matters to us is usually what is most important, right? After all in business isn’t our own survival the most important thing? If we, as a business, do not bring in the money we need to cover expenses it is futile to think we will exist for very long. Does that mean there is no point in concerning ourselves with relationships?

As a hockey coach, I would tell my players that even the best player on any team needs the help of other players in order to succeed. In fact, in order for a game to take place, there needs to be a group of players, a coach or two, an opposing team, arbitration, fans (or parents) and a platform – to play the game.

In business, the same exists:

Employees: a group of people on the same team with the same goals.
Suppliers: a group of other people who provide parts and services for your business to deliver its offering to the marketplace
Customers: a group who provide the funds that keep the business afloat.
Media: the platform that enables us to share the message of our work.

To add to the complexity of these groups, there are different levels of engagement with each. These levels of engagement are attributed to the various level of interest and commitment. At the base is a Transactional Level, whereby each party is the receiver of one thing (money in exchange for product/service) the mindset is “What is in it for me?”

Where as at the pinnacle, the Partnership Level, the parties converge and actually work for the good of the each other.

Level of engagement

To truly define what it takes to create a Partnership Level of business, I reached out to my good friend Steve Merker, Vice President of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.

At the Princess Margaret, which is one of the world’s top-five cancer research centres, the philosophy is to build partnerships in order to ensure lasting long term success. It starts with the staff and research team working together; and aligning with quality partners and attracting supporters to help the fight to beat cancer… and all for a common goal to help people live a healthy life.

I sat with Steve and he very quickly shared what is needed to create the Partnership Level of engagement with the various groups of people that make a business successful.

Redefining Not-for-Profit

“At the Princess Margaret we consider our business a ‘Social for Profit’ enterprise. We don’t like to be referred to a ‘not for’ something and so we have redefined our purpose which is Social ‘for profit’. There’s a lot of social good that comes out of what we do.

When you look at a for profit business who launches a new product, there is usually a 3 year plan. The first year is typically a loss. The 2nd year has a forecast of break even. The 3rd year is hopefully a profitable year that will also cover all the losses from year 1.

The Princess Margaret on the other hand, is held to high standards to be considered a success. This standard of success is set by the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency).”

I learned that from the onset of implementation of a new program, The Princess Margaret has to have a 65% contribution return to the charity in the first year (i.e. a 65% profit margin to be considered reasonable by the CRA). In comparison to a for-profit, Steve and his team have to hit the mark and be ‘socially profitable’ right out of the gate. Donors would not want to support a fundraising program that returns less than 50% of the dollars generated.

That kind of pressure leaves very little room for error. Steve helped me understand that at the core of success a Partnership Level of Engagement is the way to make that happen.

He reminded me of what took place leading up to our meeting and eventually having them in the Guinness Book of World Records.

“We recognized in Canada there was not a strong program that focused on the male demographic.” Mr. Merker started with. “We had the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, the Rexall OneWalk to Conquer Cancer and the Lottery.”

I was immediately transported back to our first discussion in 2010 when we met at the IEG Sponsorship Conference. He said, “If you recall we wanted to make sure that we got input not just from our traditional advisors on our board and staff, but we wanted industry experts in the sport of hockey as well.”

At the time, I was working in pro hockey at the Central Hockey League and volunteering as I had been for 30 years in youth hockey. Steve and his team put together an advisory council of pro hockey, marketing, media, business owners and medical experts. The goal was to put an event on that went be far beyond the standards that were held to them by the public, the media and the CRA.

Must-Have Partnerships

Here are the groups that The Princess Margaret developed to Partnership Level. These same ones can be done by every business in Canada regardless of the size.

– Business to Business Partnerships
– Media Partnerships
– Community Partnerships

Business to Business Partnerships: “We have an entrepreneurial approach. We present to companies opportunities for them to sponsor, donate, supply, engage and participate. And we help them activate and connect with our other partners to make a difference for all involved. In one instance we worked with an agency of a company who had decided to take a hands-off approach and the relationship was short lived lasting one year. It was very transactional and not a relationship with a lot of building blocks. On the other hand, Hatch Engineering engaged with us fully from the onset with all of the above opportunities and has raised over one Million dollars in six years, through the Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer program.”

Media Partnerships: “We identify the ideal voice to communicate the work and make them an official media partner as we know media wants the facts and stories and we know our partners want to be highlighted properly. Our players, sponsors, donors, staff and patients all have stories to tell. So it becomes a perfect match for the outlet. Something every business can do.”

Community Partnerships: “We are all looking to make a difference in lives. Some do it in time by volunteering and others by donations. We deal with both. People who contribute think about what they can do to help. We focus on being donor centric, meaning we abide their wishes. We listen to their reasons, to their challenges and create multi-faceted fundraising vehicles that speak to their desire to give back and help out. Our events can be very cathartic for them”

A Visit to the Doctor’s Office

Ensuring success in building partnerships is like visiting your doctor. First s/he needs to understand the problem. They ask a lot of questions to better understand. Then s/he starts to hone in on the specific needs. They identify the source of the pain and come up with possible solutions to present to you.

“A Partner-centric approach is a must otherwise there is no fit and the outcome will not work.” Steve told me. “We need to know their needs and what they want. Imagine if we just came up with a bunch of suggestions without knowing what their particular challenge or problem was? It’s hard to create a meaningful partner relationship until you know what their pain points are.”

Kevin Huhn is the Founder and CEO of HOPES, WISHES and DREAMS and through its mission wants to help business owners reinvent their brand with proven systems, programs and products that engage, empower and enlighten in order to impact their rate of success. To learn more visit