Brands and charities have been coming together for decades with the dual aim of boosting reputation and raising funds for worthy causes. But partnerships between corporates and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have evolved considerably, shifting from a cash-based badging exercise to an increasingly sophisticated relationship between the two parties, according to the latest C&E Advisory Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer.
“The partnering agenda seems to be really maturing,” says Manny Amadi, CEO of C&E Advisory. “Brands are deploying their full assets to harness the value of their investments in partnerships. Equally on the NGO side, they are recognising the full value that partnerships bring beyond just cash-based relationships.”
The 2016 barometer draws on the experience of 118 leading companies and NGOs through a survey and roundtable discussions for qualitative input.
The study shows businesses value the people and contacts that NGOs can provide as well as the access to knowledge they offer. However, for NGOs it reveals a marked decrease since last year in the requirement for long-term stability and access to expertise as they become far more interested in the effectiveness of partnerships so there is increased focus on delivering real outcomes.
The report suggests this reflects an overall maturation and increasing sophistication of NGO-corporate partnerships as each side understands and trusts better what the other can bring to the table.
Why NGOs and corporates partner
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children have partnered for over 10 years, gradually stepping up the level of engagement. However, around four years ago a new kind of partnership was proposed to take the relationship to a different level.
GSK provided cash grants as part of the original partnership, donating products and providing staff on secondment but the pharmaceutical giant and the charity wanted to be “more ambitious”, according to its vice-president for global health programmes, Andy Wright.
Wright says: “Children were dying of diseases that could have been prevented if they were vaccinated; we are one of the world’s biggest vaccine providers. There are big gaps that are not getting treated for certain conditions because there are not paediatric formulations available; we have one of the world’s largest research and development departments in the industry.”
For GSK it was about applying its business expertise to tackle the challenges that cause infant mortality and as a result it is the most admired partnership according to respondents in the C&E Advisory report.
Strategy over tactics
When asked what factors are most likely to make corporate-NGO partnerships more important over the next three years, more than 80% of respondents cite pressure on companies to demonstrate societal considerations within their business practices.
In what it claims is a world first, BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management, working with creative strategic agency M&C Saatchi, donated their title sponsorship of the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities to Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the official charity partner.
Anne-Marie McConnon, head of marketing at BNY Mellon, says: “We wanted to use all of our resources and expertise to impact people’s lives. That change brought about our ethos around meaningful investments.”
She adds: “Ultimately we want people to know not just what we do and how we do it, but to understand why we do it and the ethos around having a higher purpose and impact on people’s lives is really important.”
The move heightens corporate values at the asset management company and builds on its effort last year to bring the Women’s Boat Race to the Tideway for the first time.
“It is the first time any corporate has donated the sponsorship rights to a charity. I hope that other groups will now follow suit,”
Anne-Marie McConnon, head of marketing, BNY Mellon
“We received a lot of positive feedback [so wanted to] continue that and make a bigger, more positive impact with the Boat Race [in 2016]. Something that was not just about badging our logo along the river,” adds McConnon. “It is the first time any corporate has donated the sponsorship rights to a charity. I hope that other groups will now follow suit.”
These partnerships are built into the fabric of the brands and Amadi at C&E Advisory believes it can go beyond any changes that may happen within businesses. He says: “Even when change happens – a new CEO or strategy – because the partnerships are aligned to the direction of travel they often sustain and transcend temporary changes that may happen.”
There are differences, however, in how NGOs or corporates view their relationship. Some 40% of corporate respondents assess over 75% of their partnerships with NGOs as “strategic”. This compares with 28% of NGO respondents who assess 75% of their partnerships as being strategic.
There is also a marked difference at the other end of the scale, with over a third of NGO respondents categorising up to a fifth of their partnerships as “tactical” – compared with only 16% of corporate respondents.
GSK’s partnership with Save the Children delivers on internal business objectives that involve long-term strategies. Wright says the relationship is also about “bringing the outside world in and getting an external perspective on health priorities”, which informs the business. Save the Children also sits on GSK’s research and development board, which looks at maternal and child health issues.
BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management are thinking long-term too and will look to launch initiatives to build out the partnership with Cancer Research UK and the Boat Race to a much broader church within investment management.
McConnon says: “We’re going to try and focus our assets on three or four key initiatives that we believe will have the biggest impact both in terms of key objectives in employee and brand engagement and also fund raising for the charity.”
For 2017 this includes ‘mass campaigns’, high profile events with celebrities to reach a wider audience and high value events through corporate challenges and events that will raise money for the charity.
Likely importance of corporate-NGO partnerships over the next three years
This year’s barometer was conducted in the wake of the vote in June by Britain to exit the European Union. The report describes the overall picture generated around the Brexit issue as “divergent” it shows a significant amount of uncertainty and trepidation on the one hand and a business-as-usual approach on the other – mainly coming from the corporates’ side.
“Even through the credit crunch, which was another highly uncertain and volatile period, [NGO-corporate partnerships] continued to be relevant and grow,” says Amadi. He adds: “Our expectation is that whatever happens with Brexit the best [partnerships] and the more strategic ones will remain relevant.”
The partnership picture is a positive one and follows previous years’ trends in that 85% of all respondents anticipate that partnerships will become ‘more important’ or ‘much more important’ in the corporate or NGO agenda over the next three years – no respondents see them becoming less important.
A majority (55%) of companies expect to increase their investment in cross-sector partnering over the next three years and 45% expect investment to remain at current levels. Nearly four-fifths (79%) of NGOs expect their investment in partnerships to increase over the coming three years.
However there are some that expect a negative reaction post-brexit. While 55% believe the Brexit result will have little or no effect, 42% of respondents expect the decision to exit the EU and the uncertainties caused will have either a negative or significantly negative effect on the partnering agenda.