Like any commercially-based partnership, the one between a non-profit and private-sector organisation is based on a relationship. Each organisation will have someone taking responsibility for any discussion and agreements made. People are dealing with people. And, like any relationship there is likely to be a period of ‘courtship’ with many of the decisions being made for both rational and emotional reasons.
As uncovered in earlier research conducted by Internal Affairs Charities, the majority of businesses surveyed about the motivation behind supporting non-profits do it because ‘it is the right thing to do’. So, it is important that you give any potential partner a really good understanding about why you are doing the things you do – this has the power to connect emotionally as well as rationally.
We also came across some very good tips for voluntary organisations hoping to create positive private sector partnerships.
Choose your partner deliberately. Don’t simply wait for someone to approach you. Select an organisation whose mission complements your own. Pampers and UNICEF are both focused on child welfare. Their campaign would have worked less well if Pampers had engaged an old people’s group or UNICEF had partnered a motorcycle company. Pick an organisation that will have credibility executing a logistical promise, not just one that is reputationally “pure.” We think audiences trusted P&G to get the vaccine delivered, just as they put nappies on store shelves every day. This belief in the ability to deliver was key to the credibility of the campaign, even though the vaccine is actually delivered by UNICEF working through governments and local partners.
Negotiate mutually beneficial terms. An exchange that benefits both parties, while aligning on the basic mission, will be more likely to last more than a one-way donation stream. Be reasonable: a highly placed person at UNICEF nearly lost this partnership early by demanding a large percentage of Pampers’ sales. P&G could not make such a promise as this would have compromised its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. Don’t be naïve – respect your partner’s mission, just as you expect them to honour yours.
Know your own value. Most NGOs have no idea how well they are known or how they are perceived, so they can’t make a firm case as to their value. UNICEF conducted research during the Pampers campaign that demonstrated their strong value as a brand, suggesting they made a greater contribution to success than had been thought. With this information to hand in the beginning, they might have negotiated a better deal. Invest in your position by doing research up front.
Make a concrete promise. Unrestricted donations are viewed skeptically by the public. Better to choose something limited and concrete, something that seems to allow accountability. Don’t promise to boil the ocean. Make it deliverable and transparent.
Plan as partners. You must resist the habit of treating the corporation as a donor. The donor-recipient relationship is inherently unbalanced and temporary. Operating in that mode will only give your corporate partner the sense they can run over you and then leave.
You must work as equals. You must understand and take on board your new partner’s imperatives and timetables, as they must accept yours. There is no place for the temper tantrums and sycophancy that all too often characterise donor relationships.
What must be built is trust and co-operation. Close relationships should be encouraged especially among the personnel at the point of contact between the two parties. These people often must advocate internally for the other partner and act as the glue that keeps the relationship together when the going gets rough, as it inevitably will when the pressures of campaign execution rub against the demands of public service.
Leave ideology at the door. Often the biggest barrier to success is a fundamental mistrust of the private sector (and, conversely, a political stereotype of NGOs). Holding to a belief in the evil private sector is hypocritical when you are partnering with a for-profit group. Eventually it will backfire. In our experience, few people on either side actually hold the narrow view that conventional wisdom suggests. Indeed, we have seen that people on the private side are often passionately committed to the partnership as a way of putting their commercial work in service to the greater good. Have faith in that intention: the possibility that private power can be harnessed for public benefit is one of the most hopeful innovations of our times. The Pampers-UNICEF partnership has just shown us the magnitude of what can be achieved when the sectors work together.
Linda Scott is the DP World Chair at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford This month, Linda Scott and her team released a case study of the Pampers-UNICEF partnership, an independent work funded by the Pears Foundation. Click here to view the case and its supporting materials.