Corporate-NGO partnerships become more strategic as purpose moves up the agenda

As brands place societal considerations at the core of their business strategy and practices, charity partnerships are becoming increasingly based on problem-solving and value.

The partnership between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children has been voted the ‘most admired’. Credit: Tommy Trenchard / Save the Children

Strategic partnerships between businesses and charities are increasing in scale, sophistication and potential as their true value becomes more apparent, according to C&E Advisory’s latest Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer.

At a consolidated level, 42% of respondents suggest their organisations are engaging in deeper, problem-solving partnerships designed to address core, mission-relevant or purpose-led issues in ways that create value for society – a 75% rise on last year.

As brands become increasingly concerned with purpose, mutually beneficial partnerships of this kind are only going to become more important as they help to demonstrate brands’ values and commitments in a way that can be communicated to consumers, employees and key stakeholders.

“The agenda is really maturing on both sides,” says Manny Amadi, CEO of the C&E Advisory. “It is moving from a transactional, tactical relationship that is almost philanthropic to one that is really material to businesses and NGOs. That trend is really intensifying.”

The overwhelming majority of respondents (91%) believe partnerships will become more or much more important over the next three years, while 9% believe their importance will remain the same. No one foresees agreements of this kind becoming less important.

Looking at corporates specifically, 85% see partnerships with charities moving up the agenda in the coming three years – up 10% from last year. Perhaps unsurprisingly the number is higher for NGOs, with 95% anticipating importance will grow.

“Consumers are increasingly probing, so the best partnerships with NGOs see brands really drawing on the knowledge of their NGO partners in making those decisions about their supply chains and relationships with consumers,” says Amadi.

READ MORE: Corporate-NGO partnerships won’t work if they are simply a badging exercise

Strategic partnerships prosper

It is these more deeply-rooted partnerships that are making headway, according to the study. Indeed, 63% of corporate respondents suggest their NGO partnerships have helped change their business practices for the better. The same number (63%) of NGOs say the same of their partnerships with businesses, a 12 percentage point increase on last year.

One such example is the tie-up between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children, which retain their crown as the UK’s “most admired” partnership between a business and a charity, winning by some way with 11.3% of respondents singling it out in an unprompted voting exercise.

“The partnership goes beyond the traditional corporate-charity model,” says Lisa Bonadonna, head of the GSK and Save the Children partnership for GSK. “As well as providing critical child health programmatic investment, GSK brings its global expertise in the research, development and supply of medicines and vaccinations.

“This, combined with Save the Children’s global expertise in meeting the needs of remote and disadvantaged children and families, has resulted in a pioneering and powerful collaboration that is already improving the health of some of the world’s most vulnerable children.”

Four years on and the partnership has reached more than 2.6 million children; some 86,500 under-fives have been fully immunised, 183,000 have been treated for diarrhoea, malaria or pneumonia, and more than one million children have been screened for malnutrition.

Analysis found evidence that partnership-driven employee engagement has led to increased pride and trust in GSK and an enhanced corporate reputation.

Lisa Bonadonna, GSK

“Infection is a major cause of new-born mortality, which can be caused by bacteria entering the body through a newly-cut umbilical cord,” explains Bonadonna.

“In addition to supporting Save the Children’s healthcare worker training efforts, GSK has also worked to reformulate chlorhexidine, the antiseptic ingredient used in their Corsodyl mouthwash, into a gel. Insights and guidance from Save the Children on how to reach some of the most marginalised children informed key decisions in the development of the programme.”

Another example of a more strategic relationship is the partnership between M&S and Oxfam, which previously topped the list. While there has been much chatter around the success of its ‘Shwopping’ initiative, less well known is the extent to which Oxfam and M&S work together on supply chain issues and how far the relationship goes to help the company as it seeks to improve its practices.

Marks & Spencer and Oxfam came in second place by claiming 7% of the vote, while Innocent’s relationship with Age UK – which makes a comeback in 2017 after being absent last year – takes third place with 5.2%.

The partnership between Boots and Macmillan, which last year came second with 7.6% of the vote, has taken a knock, this year only achieved 3.5% of the votes. This could potentially be a result of the charity focusing its communications efforts on other aspects of the organisation’s work.

READ MORE: Macmillan revamps marketing strategy ahead of brand relaunch

Mutually beneficial

Companies and charities are fairly aligned when it comes to the key drivers of partnerships. The vast majority (80%) of respondents from both sides cite the need to use each other’s assets as the most important reason for partnering, while 75% believe increased pressure on companies to demonstrate they are giving back to society is a core reason.

Corporates are also buoyed by the fact there is more evidence around the success of these types of partnership, with 72% citing this as a key reason for entering an agreement, up by 11 percentage points since last year.

GSK, for example, has put in place a measurement and evaluation process to see its programmatic and social impact, as well as commissioning Accenture to assess the impact of the partnership from a business perspective.

“This analysis found evidence that partnership-driven employee engagement has led to increased pride and trust in GSK and an enhanced corporate reputation with a range of stakeholders including business, government and development partners,” says Bonadonna.

Given the rising importance of these relationships and the results they are delivering, investment in commitment, time and resource in is expected increase over the next three years.

More than three-quarters on both sides (77%) expect their investment in partnerships to rise or rise significantly over the coming three years, up from 66% in 2016. Just 2% expect it to decrease, while 21% predict it will stay the same, down 11% from last year.

Looking specifically at the financial investment assigned to or secured from corporate-NGO partnerships, the level is set to rise. The largest proportion of respondents on both sides (31%) expect investment to be more than £10m, a 9% increase compared to 2016. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, those looking to invest between zero and £1m is 12% lower than last year at 26%.