Our sixth annual Corporate–NGO Partnerships Barometer report polled key corporate and NGO organisations to explore the evolving partnerships landscape.

Corporate–NGO partnerships have become a cornerstone of interaction between businesses and non-profits. 

And when they’re effective, it’s a win–win situation. Businesses feel the warm glow of ‘doing good’ and fulfilling their responsibility agenda (not to mention the positive brand associations they engender), and the NGO benefits from resources, network and reach beyond their own capabilities.

But with increasing recognition of the value of such partnerships comes increasing competition, and increasing scrutiny of what actually works.

This pressure not only to ‘do good’ but to ‘do good effectively’ is behind an emerging trend of multi-organisation corporate–NGO partnerships. Organisations are increasingly looking for greater scale and reach from their partnerships, ultimately so they get the greatest impact from their activities.

Our annual Corporate–NGO Partnerships Barometer report, now in its 6th year, explores this evolving partnership landscape, and captures the views of corporate and NGO practitioners who are driving this change.

Bilateralism isn’t always enough 

Almost two-thirds of our respondents are currently involved in multi-organisational corporate–NGO agreements, and the majority of those corporates and NGOs polled (77%) see consortia-based partnerships increasing in importance over the next three years.

But why? Reach and scalability are the biggest driver: when asked what factors were most likely to make consortia-based partnerships more important, more than 86% of all corporate respondents and 80% of NGOs pointed to ‘the greater combined scale and reach all partners can bring to address a common issue’.

Other highly rated factors included value and impact (cited by 78% of corporate and 57% of NGO respondents) along with specialist know-how and networks (stated by 69% of corporate and 61% of NGO respondents).

It seems that consortia partnerships are seen to offer the best ‘bang for your buck’ to the organisations involved.

Non-financial value

But our Barometer Report shows that this value needs to be measured in much more than just financial terms. 

Sixty percent of NGO respondents now realise the impact that partnerships can have by harnessing corporates’ competencies (up 12% on the 2014 figure). And 71% of business respondents are aware of ways in which their businesses may be more effective in this way than through financial support alone.

Additionally, as societal consideration becomes increasingly embedded in business strategy and practice, so does understanding of the greater role that NGOs can play in helping business to secure their strategic goals.

The challenge of too many cooks

While the value of consortia-based partnerships is clearly appreciated, our Barometer Report also captures the complexity involved in aligning multiple parties. 

The probable slower pace and likely challenges of building trust amongst the organisations and individuals involved could hinder the anticipated growth of consortia-based partnerships.

Clearly, the perceived value of such partnerships can only be truly realised through effective planning and skilful navigation of real and often substantive challenges.

Most admired partnerships

Notably, a consortium-based partnership appeared in the top 3 ‘most admired’ list for the first time: a new entrant on the corporate–NGO partnership scene, the Tesco/ Diabetes UK/ British Heart Foundation consortium.

This multi-lateral collaboration was launched in early 2015 and sees Tesco, Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation working together to help prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Established bilateral partnerships still swinging

While consortia-based partnerships are breaking into the scene, established bilateral partnerships are still hugely admired within the industry. The M&S–Oxfam partnership to drive sustainable production and consumption triumphed yet again as the ‘Most Admired Corporate–NGO Partnership’, securing 9% of the votes in our report.

And for the 3rd year in a row, Boots–Macmillan Cancer Support wins the accolade of the second Most Admired partnership. 

These two partnerships have resonated most strongly across recent years in the Barometer’s findings and stand some distance away from the next set of most admired partnerships.

Maturing responsibility agenda

Clearly, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to corporate–NGO partnerships. But the trend towards multilateral collaborations is a clear signal of a maturing responsibility agenda coupled with an increasing appetite among NGOs to tap into the extended reach afforded by multiple partners.

We look forward to seeing how this trend develops over the coming months and years.

Jen Childs, Marketing Consultant to C&E Advisory 

Read the 2015 Corporate–NGO Partnerships Barometer report here.