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Susan Rae Ross, SR InternationalEdit


  • What are NGO-Corporate Partnerships?
  • Why are these Partnerships Important?
  • Trends Influencing these Partnerships
  • Benefits/Challenges
  • Types of Partnerships
  • Key Questions for NGOs

What are these Partnerships?

Cross-Sectoral Partnerships: People and organizations from some combination of public business, NGOs and civil society groups who engage in voluntary, mutually beneficial, innovative relationships to address common societal aims by combining their resources and competencies. - The Copenhagen Center, Partnership Alchemy

Some people call these cross-sectoral partnerships, some call these business partnerships, some call them social partnerships. But the idea is Nonprofits are pretty comfortable collaborating with other Nonprofits and pretty comfortable collaborating with government.

Why these Partnerships?

  • the world has grown flatter with dramatic technological advances yet looming social & environment issues have not fully benefited from these efforts … requiring society to marshal knowledge, skills,resources of all its sectors - Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat
  • issues have become too complex & interdependent; financial/managerial resources required too scare for any single sector to effectively respond to current challenges. New forms of partnerships are needed to address societal problems where traditional, single sector approaches are proving inadequate - Simon Zadek Partnership Alchemy
Why do we need these partnerships? Technology and communications have advanced, but not all our advances have resulted in social and environmental advances as well. There are still three billion people who live on less than $2 a day. The role of business has changed; we think of Warren Buffet giving Bill Gates billions of dollars. The world has a lot of problems that are not so simple to solve. Example: HIV started as a medical problem but has had a greater effect. Social issues - can't get into schools in developing countries, no teachers will teach them. If the medical people alone dealt with this, it wouldn't solve the problem. And that's what's happening with many of the problems today.

Trends Influencing NGO-Corporate Partnership

Trends Influencing NGO-Corporate Partnership


It is highly unlikely that you will agree with everything a business does, so the question is: is there an area where you can find common ground so you can feel comfortable with that partnership? Businesses gain: People want to feel good about where they work. Through volunteering and partnerships, more people want to work for them. It's not just about the money ... if you just go in and only ask for the money, that's the best thing you can get. Go in and say "we have this problem with child hunger, this is how we're trying to solve it, how can you help us solve it?" Every single business person has said that they want to be engaged, they don't want to just write a check.

Benefits of NGO-Corporations Partnerships

  • For Corporations
    • Economies of scale
    • Image/creditability - a social license to operate
    • Recruitment/retention of high-performing staff - people want to feel good about where they work. If you're a good company and are perceived that way, people want to work for you.
    • Skills development
    • Product innovation
  • For NGOs
    • Access to staff/skills
    • Financial resources
    • Access to Networks
    • Technical expertise/technologies.
    • Enhanced visibility


  • Business
    • Self-Interested
    • Part of the Problem
    • Profit Motivated
    • Dishonest
    • Check Writers
  • NGOs
    • Inefficient
    • Not Analytic/Strategic
    • Foster Dependency
    • Highly Political

Different Perspectives

Partnerships are hard, what makes corporate partnerships even harder is that we have really different world views. How long does it take to mobilize a community? It's not something you can do in a quarter. Our timeline is very different than theirs. It's not that one is right and one is wrong, we just need to understand these differences.

  • World Views
    • Timing (quarterly earnings vs behavior change) - very different timelines & cultures
    • Missions (profit, non-profit)
  • Language (e.g. technical jargon) - be very clear about what you mean
  • Status Different (e.g, size, resources, influence) - most non-profits don't know what their assets are, may not know the value of in-kind contributions (e.g. office space)
  • Approaches and Results
    • Decision-Making (e.g., quick vs consensus building)
    • Measures of Success

Types of Collaboration

  • Resource Exchange/Philanthropic - Traditional partnerships limited by "gratefulness and charity syndrome". Expectations/involvement are low and narrowly defined on both sides.
  • Transactional/Fee for Service - Engagement limited in focus with specific results expected by the paying party, e.g. NGOs hire businesses to do their accounting; businesses hire NGOs to manage their fellowship program.
  • Joint Programming - Engagement is more 2-way. Activities are more closely aligned with business objectives. Strategic fit becomes more important (e.g., cause-related marketing, licensing agreements).
  • Integrative - The relationship evolves into a highly integrated joint venture that is central to both organizations strategies.

Internal Partnership Assessment

  • Question 1: Why Collaborate? How does it fit in with the other stuff you do?
  • Question 2: Type of Collaboration Desired? What type of collaboration do you want?
  • Question 3: Who to Partner with? Who within corporation do I need to go to with this? If you want to do cause-related, don't go to the corporate foundation because cause-related marketing is done by marketing department.
  • Question 4: Type of Partnership? Once you figure out what type of relationship you want, it makes it easier to figure out where to go within the corporation to start that process.

Partnership Portfolio Mapping

Partnership Portfolio Mapping

Portfolio Map

Partnership Implementation and Results

  • Question 5: Relationship Mechanisms?
  • Question 6: Required Level of Effort?
  • Question 7: Desired Outcome of Partnership?

Level of Effort and Outcomes

Level of Effort and Outcomes

Effort & Outcomes

Successful Partnerships

  • Are built, they do not just happen.
  • Are a valuable outcome in their own right.
  • Have clearly defined outcomes/results.
  • Have well-articulated partnership strategy including indicators to monitor progress of the partnership
  • Have organization structures, communication channels and operational systems to support the partnership.


  • Cross-Sectoral partnerships will increase in importance in the coming years.
  • NGOs and Business will need to learn how to speak the same language and find common ground for partnerships to succeed.
  • Mechanisms to efficiently leverage the various strengths among the various partners will need to be developed.

Jim Pitofstky, Executive Director of Hands On Bay AreaEdit

  • Manages over 10,000 volunteers throughout the Bay Area, supports over 300 communities for free. Manage several thousand employees in volunteer programs from Gap, Cisco, Schwab and others. Previously ran a number of non-profits & foundations, a coach to many CEOs & companies.
  • Examples of companies I and my colleagues have worked on, so you can see both how they've been created and how the benefits become manifest.

Body Shop

  • How to meet CEOs? You don't need to know someone. They're sometimes keynote speakers at conferences. More than 10 years ago the CEO and Founder of the Body Shop, Anita Roddick, was the keynote speaker. She said 3 separate things that I connected in my head: (1) value of employee volunteerism - paid release time for her employees who wanted to volunteer; (2) value of environmental needs, (3) need to inculcate service ethic in youth. At the time I was working with a nonprofit trying to integrate service directly in the school program. I waited in line at a book signing (didn't even buy the book) and said "I heard you say .... have you ever thought of integrating all? Having employees go hand in hand with youth, schools to do environmental work?" She loved it. I followed up with a letter, not tooting my horn but saying what I heard her say, and repeating what I'd said to her after. She wanted to start at an international level right away but I wasn't ready for that, so we worked with local stores in DC Metro areas working with schools to offer this service.
  • Tracked how it worked. Process. It's not just about the outcome but also how you get there. How you do the orientation, how you prepare them, how you market it. How you engage the employees so they feel they have some investment. Tracking on the corporate side, how are sales impacted? Within 2 years we tracked that sales went up over 90% and it was directly attributed to the service they were doing because we asked the customers why are you here and why are you repeat customers and they said because they saw the employees out there in their Body shop t-shirts even in their child's schools or in their communities.
  • Then expanded regional, national, international. Didn't happen overnight, although Anita wanted it. Important to start small, go slow.

Teflon Cookware

  • took the least expensive pot in the Teflon market and labeled it with "A portion of the proceeds going to Share our Strength". That pot outsold every pot in its history. As a result of that Teflon started getting some premier displays within Bloomingdale's and other stores that they had not been receiving - that put them further on the map then they'd had ever been.
  • both thanking each other - nonprofit thanked for the $100,000 check. Corporation said, "If we gave you that much, imagine how much we made."
  • that's the kind of relationships that I want to encourage you guys to build.

Homeless shelter in Washington DC

  • An employee asked why can't they get jobs when there are so many jobs out there ...The answer was after their interviews, they had no phones, no message machines ... only a pay phone at the homeless shelter so employers couldn't call them back easily ... so the employee said corporation had all these surplus voice-mail boxes they weren't using and donated them to all the residents in the shelter. Within 2 weeks 80% had jobs.
  • So just get engaged and tell what's the problem ... don't dumb volunteerism. It can effect change too and you won't even be able to anticipate all the changes that can be effected. It doesn't always come down to what you originally thought.

State Farm Insurance

  • built national campaign for corporation trying to reach youth. We got dollars from them, about a million a year.
  • We were working with students. State Farm said they want to educate teenage drivers to be safer around drunk driving, seat-belt safety, using cell phones - so we built a national campaign called Project Ignition. They funded us to do a national competition where students come up with different plans and campaigns that would then become media campaigns and then become documentaries to show within their communities. State Farm got great publicity, and helped them sell insurance.

Honor your missions

  • Honor your mission while recognizing the mission of the company. As long as you're honoring your mission as well as theirs, you're doing ok. Stay on your core mission while helping their core mission.
  • I turned down one company with lots of money who wanted me to change focus from K-12 to higher education. I said no. You will be tempted when offered with dollars that will take you off your mission and it doesn't make the business bad, don't demonize them. They're trying to make a difference too and they're trying to see whether you're interested. But as long as you can stay on your core mission while honoring their mission too and recognizing it is a partnership and not begging, your relationship will grow. I treat it like a partnership and as a result more companies contact us.

Randy Chun, Wells Fargo FoundationEdit

  • Eleven years with the bank, commercial banker background
  • The elephant in the corporate citizenship room. Corporate Responsibility: How much money do we give away, what will it give us, how will it make us look good? We make no apologies about it. The fact is corporations make up maybe 4-5% of total giving in the US. It's not a lot of money. But we make no apologies at Wells Fargo that we give away $160 million last year (third in giving among financial institutions) and we're at about $120 million this year.
  • The foundation departments of major corporations are generally organized as ours is. What makes us tick? Since we’re a financial institution, our focus is community development and economic development (affordable housing, small business technical assistance, job development). If you came to us for human services projects, you won’t get much, and only short term. In dealing with corporations, you need to know what’s their main expertise, what’s in it for them.
  • So in the East Bay Wells Fargo works with Satellite Housing (housing for the elderly, low & moderate income units), A New America (small business training for immigrants), Center for Employee Training (entry level training)
  • The second thing you need to know ... decisions are normally made at the local level. I'm the bucket, my area goes from here to Los Angeles. But I don't know you.
  • Local markets have committees that meet once a month or quarter to discuss requests. We measure them by the foot (get 3 1/2 feet of requests a day). I route them out to various local markets. True it's nice to have a relationship with good ol' Randy Chun, the bucket. But I'm not the guy who's normally going to say "Let's fund this" so your best relationship is with the other 150 thousand employees that we have out in the company.
  • And I'm not even going to say the CEO. In the 11 years that I've been in the Wells Fargo Foundation, my CEO has never requested that I fund a specific project. He's sent me letters saying "this is a wonderful idea why don't you take a look at it"
  • Basically it's the employees who bring in requests, so get to know them. They really determine what's important to the company. They're the eyes in the community.


  • Should we approach the same company with nine different ways to get grants?
No way. Just give us one ... I'll say no way to 9. We like to spread it around. Most corporations like to fund one organization once a year. Wells Fargo spreads it out and funds 1000 grants - small grants.
  • Event sponsorships?
They're no different. Just a matter of how we structure it and pay it out. If that's your first approach, it's the worst way. We know nothing about you, you might embarrass us down the line.
  • How start?
Randy: Meet someone senior. If they're impressed, they'll tell the funding people. The more senior, the more I trust their opinion. I'd assume they have good judgment, so I'm going to look at that very seriously vs. someone who's only been with the company a year and is at an entry level position. Jim: go where the companies are. Go to conferences where the companies go. Cold calls - read the magazines they might read, read their awards pages. Jim read an article about Odwalla CEO's perspective on why they did what they did. He read the article then called and asked for that CEO. The receptionist asked who he was and then transferred him through. He congratulated the CEO on winning the award then added "I also read your challenges and can you tell me more about that because I might be able to help you." This opened a window with Odwalla. Didn't BS - saw a fit and that inspired a call.
Customize - use their words - I heard you say this, and hears how we can help you with that. Pitch it in 5 minutes. Figuring out what's most important to them and make it easy for them. One page on who you are, what you do, how can you help them.
Susan adds: Just do something, a letter to the CEO "I know you're really busy, is there someone on your staff I can talk to about ...?" Corporations are made up of people - they have kids and lives - It's those relationships that will make that relationship work. Go in with some good faith issues, lay them out, these are the issues. Negotiation skills are so key ... all corporations have problems, protests. Open that dialogue, don't start with the worst scenario. For example, had six issues with McDonalds, they changed two. Environmental organizations said "but they didn't change all six", and we said "but they changed two, and set a precedent to change others."
  • What if it's controversial?
Susan: If there's a stigma around them up and keep talking. Jim: Controversial nonprofit: Echoing Green Foundation for social change. Look at their portfolio and see your colleagues. Controversial: stop prison rape, trafficking of women in Russia ... look at who supported them, look at Reebok Human Rights Award Winners and look at who funded them. Start from NGO side.
  • Are we trying to be pure or are we trying to get others to be socially responsible?
Susan: there are bad corporations and there are bad NGOs. Go in with goodwill. You can work with worst if you can change what they’re doing. Jim: Are we claiming that we are ivory pure? Aren’t we trying to get companies to be socially responsible? We’re not giving our seal of approval saying they’re responsible, we’re helping them become that. Get them in the room, get in the mix and affect change rather than curse the wind.
  • How to approach, what’s the pitch?
Go deeper and cultivate a relationship first rather than using lists and cold calling. Not thousands of solicitations. Go after the ones that have some fit with us and research on how they will receive it. It's not a numbers game. Get more focused for a higher yield rate. Five corporate sponsors for a whole year or three separate group events. Unique events, specific one-off a la carte deals for higher visibility.
Less is more. Keep your pitch short – if you can’t pitch in five minutes, you have no chance. Who you are, what you do, how you can help me – on one page.
  • How important is it to be a consumer or customer of a corporation to get the money?
Randy: Not very. Ten years ago we stopped funding Boy Scouts because of discrimination. 180 million was pulled from us. Was told don't bother me until it gets to 1 billion pulling out.
Can give money in 60 days. Can't give you status in that time. Don't call and ask for status.
Establish a relationship with the corporation... often start with small grants or relationships. Do what you say you will ... can you perform? Gain that trust. Employee giving - cultivate employee ambassadors on your behalf. Feature on your employee-giving site. The relationship is critical from the start. Once trust is established, it's hard to get out of the system; from then on you're in. In long term, you may end up with a substantial amount of money – but not in the short term.
Only 12% of money comes from corporations, 88% comes from individuals ... prioritize your efforts.
  • Online databases - must buy?
Go to the Foundation Center - see the separate websites for corporate foundations vs. the corporations main site.
Go to the Cause Marketing Forum, Cone Inc – case studies, a great resource.
Meet with the marketing team and finance team as well as funding team.
Home Depot partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and Kaboom Playgrounds. Paid for the privilege to build gym floors because it was good training for their staff.
Susan is writing a book on this and looking for case studies so email her if you have some.