Working with businesses

Building partnerships with a business – a profit-making company – can offer a wealth of benefits to student volunteers, your institutions, the community and the business itself.


Be clear about your context 

  • Have clear objectives about what you want from the partnership, and ensure they are aligned to both of the organisations’ core business. 

  • Do your research to ensure that you are aware of previous, current and planned partnerships with businesses within and beyond your department. This could also give you some contacts and ideas. 

  • As well as researching within your organisation, consider talking to other HEI’s about their experiences of working with businesses. This will help you build up a picture risks and benefits of working with business, along with the time involved in developing and maintaining partnerships, and the cost involved for business and for you. 

Approaching a business partner 

  • When approaching a business, ensure you have researched the company, including their vision and mission statement, and their work with the community and education. Find out who the appropriate contact person is and approach the work in a professional manner. 

  • Approach the relationship with a high level clarity and sense of purpose. Be clear about what you can offer through partnership, and articulate convincingly what business could gain from the relationship.  

  • Be clear about any proposed arrangements, including exclusivity of sponsorship and partnership, deadlines, budget, resources, evaluation, etc. 

  • Be realistic about what you can offer in regards to time and staff resources, and be honest about your limitations. Encourage the company to do the same.  


Benefits to your higher education institution

  • Enhance the profile of your work both internally and externally across the sector, and within the community. 

  • Opportunities for student volunteers to network and present themselves to business partners, gain insights into the business world and enhance their CVs. 

  • Funding opportunities requiring cross-sector partnership may become more accessible. 

  • Access to emerging technologies and equipment. 

Benefits to the business

  • Positive exposure and enhanced public relations with the local community.

  • Easy community investment activities, including providing employee volunteering opportunities and facilitated introductions to community partners.  

  • Knowledge Transfer - facilitated access to resources, specialism’s and knowledge of the HEI. 


Recognise that any partnership will involve challenges along with opportunities, and a flexible and open-minded approach is necessary for a relationship to work. Be aware that you may or may be motivated by different outcomes and that your approaches to capture outcomes may vary. 

The relationship between business partners and students needs to be managed carefully. Ensure students have with relevant information and training to ensure they are aware of the importance of the relationship with a company, both for the university and for the student. Ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial, setting key objectives for what the students would like to get from the relationship, as well as what the business contacts do too.  

Top tips 

  1. Have a showcasing event of your work inviting lots of businesses 

  1. Allow partnerships to develop incrementally, possibly start with inviting a business in an advisory capacity 

  1. Hold regular review meetings – this helps to manage expectations, but also builds relationships and helps to fully embed the process in both the company and the University.  

  1. Operate with transparency and accessibility throughout the partnership. Establish a main point of contact within the HEI and company. Be clear about the best way for you and the business representative to contact one another and the expected practical frequency of contact (a weekly email update, for example).   

  1. Ensure your project is understood by a number of people. This will help to make the partnership more secure, if any difficulties are faced further down the line and invites a greater mix of ideas and skills. 

  1. Establish what areas of work can and should be evaluated with your partner at the earliest possible opportunity, to provide greater clarity about what your priorities are and how you can best capture the impact of your work. 

  1. Remember to promote the partnership, your work and successes as often as you can to key stakeholders. Partnership requires effort, but brings many rewards, which should be celebrated and promoted through the HEI and business networks. Work closely with your communications department/team for maximum impact and targeted marketing.