For the next five years, 2,000 staff including 300 rangers at the 15 national parks will be working in the latest gear from US specialist outdoor retailer Columbia, after the National Parks Partnerships signed a deal with the brand, saving a six-figure sum to be spent elsewhere.
In this era of budget constraint, securing this kind of sponsorship is more vital than ever. How you approach it is key, says National Parks Partnerships development director Naomi Conway. While it is important to establish what you want from such an agreement, it is equally important to start with what you have to offer, she says. Conway talks about "having a really clear sense of what it is you're offering to a partner".
Once you know what you can offer, research suitable companies to see how their business objectives may dovetail with yours, she adds. Avoid "a random contact", choose your targets well and be prepared. "Getting them to understand who you are and why you are important is crucial. You need to have that sort of elevator pitch, as it's called. You need to be able to communicate it."
Conway has 20 years' experience in third-sector fundraising in the museums and galleries sector. She says there are similarities to parks. "It's called your case for support in the charity sector, why should people give to us? It's about the vision, how we are making the world a better place. Why are national parks important, why are local parks important? There are so many benefits of green space - we need to send it out to people."
Focus on one big idea
She advocates "having one big idea and no more than two or three", adding: "If it's unique to your organisation, all the better. Opening the door is the hardest thing to do. You can bore people with facts about yourself so you need to make it about them."
Once you have your points clear in your mind, you may be approaching a contact cold but you have a warm approach, Conway advises. She says it is important to be tenacious and use any contact you have in that organisation to find the right person. "You can almost get hold of anyone if you ask in a nice polite way. You need to not go in like a salesperson. You need to go in and ask for an exploratory conversation with the right person.
"My main advice is not going in with a set idea of how it has to be. Go in with an open mind and develop it with your partner. It needs to be mutually beneficial. If it's too restrictive it could be counting yourself out of a possibility."
Conway admits that assigning a monetary value to your offer is never easy. "It's very difficult and sometimes you take a guess. You can be upfront and say: 'What would you be willing to invest in these sorts of things?' This is our dream amount of money, this is what we want to achieve.'"
It is important not to get disheartened, she adds. Even if you do all the right things, you still may not talk to the right people, or negotiations go a long way but turn into nothing. This happens the majority of the time. "You have to have a very large number of conversations before you find the meaningful conversation to get the deal."
Conway and Columbia started talking more than a year ago, after Conway identified that the company wanted to improve its profile in the UK. Supply details were decided in consultation with the various national parks and Columbia. National parks staff are also acting as kit testers and feeding back valuable information to the brand.
She says the deal represents "a really significant saving" but the benefits are much wider than simply money, not least having a powerful advocate in the corporate sector. "I think people make an assumption that any interaction of the corporate world can only be negative. Normally people are nervous who haven't had experience of it in the past. You need to respect that, understand it and be really confident of your reasons.
"It's about getting the message out and having more people on your side so that when times are tough you can ride it out together. It's a partnership. Partners can help tell the public how important they are. We shouldn't be scared of it, they are on our side."