How to create effective NGO partnerships

Marks & Spencer’s partnership with Oxfam has been voted the “most admired” corporate/NGO partnership by peers, in the annual C&E Advisory barometer.


The retailer was followed in joint second place by the Procter & Gamble partnership between its Pampers brand and UNICEF and Macmillan’s partnership with Boots.

The report – the result of a September poll of 13O NGOs and companies – found that both corporate brands and NGOs believe that the role of cross-sector partnerships will become more important in the next three years but both sides say organisations must look beyond financial support and establish how to drive the most effective partnerships that will resonate with consumers.

More marketing-led partnerships

In the last year there has been a 14 per cent rise in “marketing-led” partnerships, particularly cause related marketing, according to the report.

C&E Advisory CEO Manny Amadi.adds that high profile marketing and communications are part of the reason M&S and Oxfam’s partnership has become so successful. The retailer has embedded Oxfam in much of its marketing activity including its recent clothes recycling drive Shwopping.

For less public facing brands or those with less generous marketing budgets there is a lot to be gained from enhancing internal marketing of the partnership to boost the employer brand, the report adds.

Look beyond funding

The majority of corporate NGO partnerships begin with a financial relationship but the report found 68 per cent of respondents believe that harnessing non-cash resources would make more of an impact than purely cash-based relationships.

While this is common, the top three most successful partnerships identified in the report – Boots and Macmillan, Pampers and UNICEF and M&S and Oxfam – go beyond funding and draw on multiple dimensions that address their “mission”.

A spokesperson from UNICEF says the financial benefit of partnering with Pampers to provide vaccinations to mothers in the developing world is “obvious” but also that it has helped push newborn tetanus up the agenda with Governments. She adds that the “advocacy benefit cannot be underestimated.”

In the majority of organisations the person responsible for negotiating partnerships is a fundraiser, which Amadi says can “skew” the potential value and restrict it to a financial partnership.

Don’t underestimate the value of NGOs

The annual survey found that NGOs underestimate their role in enhancing business, and their effectiveness as a business partner. Almost three quarters (75 per cent) of corporates regard NGOs as “effective professional organisations” compared to just 42 per cent of NGOs themselves.

This lack of confidence from NGOs will hold back any partnership’s effectiveness, according to Amadi.

He says: “The most secure and successful partnerships, like personal relationships, are those when both sides are secure about themselves, what they bring and each other. If both sides ar confident there is more chance of having a lasting relationship.”

Business drivers

There is an assumption that the benefits a corporate organisation gains from a partnership with an NGO are soft intangible measures such as ‘feel-good factor’ and brand love, but a strategic partnership with an NGO can also help a corporate business deliver against hard business measures.

The report found a 15 per cent increase in NGOs partnering businesses for innovation purposes, compared to 2011 which shows that more organisations are considering more business reasons.

Top 5 Most Admired corporate-NGO partnerships –  


2012 (2011)

Partnership and Partners
1 (1) M&S/Oxfam– Including The M&S-Oxfam Clothing Exchange
2 (3) P&G (Pampers)/UNICEF – 1 Pack=1 Vaccine
3 (New entry) Boots/Macmillan
4 (New entry) Networkrail/Samaritans
5 (4) HSBC Climate Partnership – HSBC, The Climate Group, Earthwatch, Smithsonian Tropical Institute and WWF

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