Innovation becomes key driver of corporate-NGO partnerships

Innovation is becoming an increasingly important motivation for both brands and charities that enter into partnerships, with tie-ups now more strategic than ever before.

Businesses and charities are placing significantly more importance on strategic partnerships as they look to create meaningful relationships with consumers and drive innovation, according to C&E Advisory’s latest annual Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer.

Three quarters of businesses (74%) suggest they are now engaged in deeper, problem-solving partnerships, a 61% increase on last year when 46% of respondents said the same.

The importance of strategic collaborations between brands and non-profit organisations has been steadily rising over the past couple of years, but the shift is even more pronounced this year – it marks the first time the majority of brands view tie-ups of this nature on a deeper level.

This is partly thanks to the rising importance of purpose to businesses, but also given consumers are becoming more sceptical of brands attempts to ‘do good’, according to Manny Amadi, CEO of the C&E Advisory.

“Consumers are much more savvy these days and companies are more easily called out. Brands have to mitigate the risk of being seen by consumers as inauthentic, which is why they are taking this agenda more seriously,” he tells Marketing Week.

“Done well, this type of cause-related marketing can add a lot of value and help brands grow loyalty, enhance their reputations and build deeper relationships. But but done poorly it can backfire on the organisations involved.”

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

Innovation is another core reasons both charities and businesses are looking to form strategic partnerships and get the most from such arrangements; it has long been a key consideration for NGOs but it is becoming increasingly important for brands too.

While 77% of NGOs emphasised the importance of innovation – a 5.5% increase on last year – innovation is now a key consideration for brands too, with 81% suggesting it is one of the main reasons they enter into such agreements, a 20.9% increase on 2017. It is now the second most important reason for companies, behind reputation and credibility on 84%.

“In days gone by companies wanted to partner because of reputational motivations and charities mostly wanted to partner because they wanted the cash. That served them well but it is limiting,” says Amadi. “Now, as the agenda matures both parties are thinking about what else they can get from partnering.”

Although it should be noted that charities’ core motivation for entering partnerships is still access to funds (95%), followed by access to people and contacts (81%).

GSK and Save the Children is most-admired partnership

The partnership between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children has been voted the most admired partnership for a third year in a row. It is becoming increasingly well respected, though, gaining 15.5% of the share of vote versus 11.3% in 2017.

Innovation continues to play an important role for both GSK and the children’s charity. GSK has worked with the NGO to reformulate chlorhexidine, an antiseptic ingredient in a GSK mouthwash, into a gel, for example, to help prevent umbilical cord infections which can lead to neonatal sepsis, a cause of newborn deaths worldwide

This is one example of how the two organisations pool their capabilities in R&D, supply chain, procurement and vaccines. The partnership focuses on improving access to basic healthcare, training and equipping health workers in the poorest communities, developing child-friendly medicines and calling for societal change.

Since the partnership launched in 2013, it has reached more than 5 million people, including 2.8 million children aged under five in 45 countries. The report suggests the partnership is admired for its scale, longevity and mutual interest. Both parties have benefited from pooling of resources and assets, meaning GSK has been able to access difficult markets and boost its reputation while Save the Children has gained funding for projects and expertise.

Claire Hitchcock, head of the GSK and Save the Children partnership for GSK, says: “This unique partnership combines GSK’s science and expertise with Save the Children’s insights and sector-leading on-the-ground knowledge. We will continue to build on our achievements together, focusing on long-term health programmes, strengthening healthcare systems, finding new treatments and advocating for global change.”

Helen D’Oyley, partnerships and philanthropy director at Save the Children, adds: “Our partnership demonstrates what can be achieved working with corporates and business when you combine global skills, expertise and resources, to help save children’s lives.”

Boots and Macmillan’s partnership, which has been running since 2009, has been voted the second most admired partnership, with 11.3% of the vote, up from 3.5% last year when it was fifth in the ranking. This is partly due to more of an emphasis on the partnership in-store.

Together, Boots and Macmillan have trained more than 2,200 pharmacists who volunteer to receive specific training to be able to offer their patients additional information and guidance on medicines and the wider issues when affected by cancer.

The Oxfam scandal fallout

Despite charities including Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières being caught up in high profile sexual exploitation scandals, the importance of corporate-NGO partnerships have not been overly affected.

For the majority of organisations, the scandals have had neither a positive nor a negative impact to their approach to partnering, with 76% of corporates and 73% of NGOs agreeing with this sentiment.

READ MORE: Oxfam sets out to limit brand damage from Haiti scandal

It has had more of an impact on international companies and NGOs, however. Perhaps surprisingly, 25% of international businesses and 15% of international charities say the scandal has positively or very positively affected their organisation’s approach to cross-sector partnering.

For any organisation looking to establish a corporate-NGO partnership, success ultimately comes down to forward planning.

Amadi concludes: “It’s about core things like relationship management, governance, reporting and measurement. You need to get those things right in order to be taken seriously.”



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