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In the wake of the Charity Commission’s investigation into sexual misconduct by OXFAM staff and the alleged failure of the NGO to take the necessary steps to deal with it, it is a good time to reflect on the relationship between business and charities, things to be wary of when working together, and how business can help hold NGOs more accountable.
After vetting over 30,000 charities in the UK and around the world to determine their suitability for corporate support, we’ve identified four crucial pillars that support strong cooperation with the nonprofit sector.
Pick a cause, then pick your partner
This seems obvious, but in reality it is not always the case. Companies are often drawn to the NGOs that are the biggest or the most “pushy”, rather than those reflecting the values and goals of the company. Think about what the mission of the company is, what your customers care about and where you can have the most impact – whether it is by boosting opportunities for UK youth or by helping rural communities across the world travel the bumpy road to development. You should also think about your employees: what do they stand for; what kind of activities are they likely to be willing to engage with? And in what field do they feel they can make a difference and will thus be most rewarded?
An example of a good match between company and cause is the Banking on Change project. Set up by Plan and Care International in collaboration with Barclays, this initiative aims to facilitate access to banking, from which around 2.5 billion people across the world are currently excluded. Who could have brought a better contribution to this cause than a bank?
Do your homework
A key step to take before getting into any partnership is to gather all the information available about your future partner. Does their strategy seem well defined and is there any evidence their work is hitting the target? Have a look at their financial reports, whether there is any news coverage, and see how the money is being spent and what their priorities are. But also remember to check the trustee board: how many of them are there? Are they in touch with what’s going on?
Clearer goals, better outcomes
Once you’ve found the ideal partner, think carefully about what you are trying to achieve together. A close partnerships with a clear plan translates into tangible and measurable results. However, crucial to this process is communication and openness: the more employees, investors, customers, and the broader community understand about the partnership, the more they will be able to help in achieving the goals set, by playing an active role or by becoming good ambassadors.
For example, a campaign by Shelter in partnership with British Gas has produced concrete results by, among other things, promoting a law, passed in 2015, which made it substantially harder for landlords to evict tenants claiming improvements to the rented property, a milestone in the battle against retaliatory evictions. A clear and focused strategy, with closely aligned priorities between corporate and charity, lies at the heart of success stories such as this one.
Monitoring and feedback: two fundamental ingredients
Follow up on how any donations are being spent by your partner, and get feedback from your employees involved in activities with the charity. Is the partnership meeting set goals? If not, why? Do your employees feel like they are really making a difference? Close monitoring and clear evaluation of the projects will allow you to report concrete results back to your stakeholders, while creating a space for reflection to understand what might have gone wrong and whether there is space for improvement.
A strong partnership for strong results
There is no doubt that productive cooperation between an NGO and a business can be demanding. However, when done right, strong partnerships will bring larger benefits for companies and achieve far more long-term and tangible results for the charity and for wider society.
To gain the most from cooperation with the charity sector, take your time to choose the perfect partner: a nonprofit organisation with a good record that aligns with your strategy, that can benefit from the specific resources or skills that your company brings. Set concrete goals and communicate with the stakeholders involved to maximise your results, while always keeping an eye on the progress that is being made.
CSR and charity work have a lot in common with doing business: goals have to be set and results evaluated. By doing so, you can learn more about what you are achieving and whether there is room for betterment in the delivery of effective and meaningful change.