Corporate-NGO tie-ups rise in importance as brands seek ‘role in society’

New data suggests corporate-NGO partnerships will only increase in importance over the next three years amid the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine.

Source: C&E Advisory Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer 2022

While much of the conversation over the past couple of years has focused on the impact of the pandemic and subsequent recovery, the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine are changing the focus of brand-NGO partnerships.

Embracing the growing impact of their relationships in terms of fundraising and raising awareness, 93% of NGOs and 82% of brands surveyed for C&E Advisory’s 2022 Corporate-NGO Barometer expect partnerships to become more, or much more, important over the next three years.

“It speaks to the importance of the environmental, social and governance agenda,” says C&E Advisory CEO Manny Amadi.

“Brands are not just about the products they sell, but what they stand for, the meaning of them and purpose matters. That’s a striking theme. The tide is flowing really strongly towards that sense of businesses and brands having a role in society because of the expectations that are on them.”

Brand-NGO partners on entering an ‘exciting moment’ for social changeThis year’s barometer found that for corporates getting involved in NGO partnerships, 97% are mainly motivated by enhancing their reputation and credibility – an ongoing theme in the survey, now in its 12th year.

For NGOs, access to funds raised through partnerships is the primary motivation, according to 95% of respondents. This is something Amadi points out rises each year, but could be facing problems in 2022.

He believes that “without a doubt” the impact of mitigating factors – such as the cost crunch reducing the amount consumers are willing to donate and the redirection of funds towards the war in Ukraine – have caused problems for some charities.

Consumers are also often expecting more from brands. Some 97% of businesses and 92% of NGOs say partnerships have helped corporate partners to enhance their understanding of societal and environmental issues. Indeed, 43% of corporates and 54% of NGOs say their partnerships have helped businesses change their practices “for the better”.

The war in Ukraine

This year’s barometer highlights a contrast between how brands and charities perceive the impact of the war in Ukraine.

When asked if the war has “positively impacted/will positively impact” the cross-sector partnerships agenda, 29% of brands agreed, compared with 13% of NGOs.

On the flip side, when asked if the impact had been negative, just 16% of corporates answered yes, compared with 33% of NGOs.

The tide is flowing really strongly towards that sense of businesses and brands having a role in society.

Manny Amadi, C&E Advisory

One charity respondent reflecting on the immediate impact of the war explained: “As a charity responding in Ukraine, the war gave us new opportunities to engage with donors and resulted in us onboarding several new partnerships.”

However, the indirect negative impact is clear for other charities.

“Partners have focused their fundraising efforts on helping Ukrainian refugees rather than our cause. Completely understandable, but ultimately has affected our partnership in terms of fundraised income and time to implement strategic activities,” another charity responded.

“For some charities and companies, the war in Ukraine was a useful topic on which they’ve collaborated, particularly charities that already worked in Ukraine, but there’s not a huge number of those,” Amadi explains.

“But for others, it meant that attention shifted from what they were doing to Ukraine and that left them really struggling.”

This year’s most admired partnerships

As the importance of partnerships grows, the barometer highlights the most admired corporate-NGO tie-ups. This year, Tesco’s partnership with animal charity WWF takes the top spot.

The survey asks respondents, unprompted, which partnerships they admire and why. It’s the first time Tesco and WWF have taken first place since their partnership launched in 2018. Some 12.9% of respondents singled out the partnership, which aims to decrease the environmental impact of shopping baskets in the UK, as one of their most admired. 

One respondent described the tie-up between Tesco and the WWF as a “truly strategic partnership, working from the inside to change entire corporate policies and procedures”. Another pointed out that the partnership allowed both parters to achieve something “neither could do alone”, which makes strategic sense.

The partnership’s ‘Basket metric’, which tracks sustainability across areas such as climate change and deforestation, led to four other supermarkets joining WWF’s ‘Retailers’ Commitment for Nature’ during the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in November last year.

Meet the ‘transformative’ brand-NGO partners pushing for systemic change

In second place is the partnership between Boots and Macmillan (11.4%), which last year tied for first place with the Tesco-Health Charity partnership consortium.

Boots and Macmillan have been working together since 2009 to provide cancer support and raised £19.3m, while training more than 4,200 information pharmacists.

For the first time, HSBC’s partnership with Shelter has broken into the top three (10.6%) having first launched in 2019. The partnership’s ‘No Fixed Address’ campaign has helped more than 2,400 people with no fixed address to open bank accounts, helping them to access Universal Credit, secure employment and achieve financial independence.

Amadi explains communication and awareness play a huge role in these successful partnerships. Taking the HSBC and Shelter partnership for example, he suggests the media buy-in for the campaign, which featured a prominent TV ad, has helped the tie-up break into the top three as it is “communicated in different forms and through different channels”.

Elsewhere in the top 10 is Network Rail’s partnership with Samaritans (8.3%), Tesco’s work with Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK (7.6%), GSK and Save the Children (4.5%) and Cadbury and Age UK (2.3%).

Also making the top 15 are B&Q and Shelter, Greene King and Macmillan Cancer Support, M&S and Breast Cancer Now, McVitie’s and Mind, and O2 and NSPCC, all at 1.5%.

Likewise, Paddington Bear and Unicef, Sky and WWF, and Vodafone and Business2Schools make the list, again at 1.5%.

Amadi insists corporate-NGO partnerships are making a difference: “As brands go on their purpose journeys, partnerships are really helping them to get it right.”