Responsible business leaders understand the strategic importance of continually improving the sustainability profile of their business. Balancing environmental performance, social responsibility and profitability is critical for the long-term success of any company. Aligning with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is one way to get feedback on the organization’s progress and to demonstrate a methodical approach to managing its corporate responsibility. Ultimately, NGOs can improve the reputation and profile of a business, but it is equally important to select the right partner that can provide value-added and relevant ideas that have positive impact on operations.
For years, many NGOs were reluctant to entertain the possibility of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with for-profit businesses. Focused on a strict mission, the executive directors for these non-profit groups held the perception that aligning with a corporation would force them to compromise their ideals and long-term goals. However, over the past few years, this perception has evolved and many corporations and NGOs have formed lasting and trusting partnerships, allowing both groups to harness their collective power to achieve significant results.
Finding the Right Partner
1. Assess business needs and resources. In order to find a partner that best aligns with the company’s needs, it is important to first look at critical elements that make the business work. First, analyze the energy and resource inputs necessary for its operations Next, inventory the social issues that are relevant to the organization and the industry in which it competes. Then, name the largest existing and potential impacts the future growth of the business.
2. Identify possible partnerships. Once the relevant areas of focus are identified, look for a partner with demonstrated expertise on those social or environmental issues. For example, if a company manufactures a product that utilizes a natural resource like water, look for an NGO that can assist with monitoring efforts to reduce water consumption or one that provides communities with access to clean water. Seek partnerships with NGOs that demonstrate a baseline understanding of business operations and can devote time to truly identifying break-through opportunities to achieve significant goals like waste, water and energy reduction.
There are a multitude of NGOs with this expertise, ranging from large organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund to smaller groups such as Global Water. By researching the missions of a broad spectrum of groups, it makes it easier to pinpoint the group that best serves the organization’s long-term goals.
3. Develop a list of partnership opportunities. Identify tactics or programs for the partnership before reaching out to the agency. The list should include opportunities such as community events, educational seminars, fundraising ventures and consumption reduction programs. If the potential partner has an existing program worth leveraging, contact the appropriate group administrator. Otherwise, have the list prepared and consider the business’s goals for each tactic before making the first call.
4. Open the Dialogue. Once outreach is made, set up a call with the appropriate stakeholders. Throughout the discussions and dialogue, it often becomes quickly apparent whether or not an NGO is the right match for the company’s corporate responsibility goals. By contacting NGOs that share the company’s mission, it improves the opportunity for a successful and mutually beneficial partnership. Finally, identify and adhere to a mutually agreeable set of terms for the partnership. Through open dialogue and a specific document that outlines the terms of the relationship, it ensures clarity around roles and objectives.
While some businesses might support non-profit groups due to proximity or previous relationships, it’s important to strategically select an NGO that will help realize a company’s corporate responsibility goals. By working with local groups like Habitat for Humanity or global sustainability initiatives such as the World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers program, it is possible to enhance the quality and depth of a company’s corporate responsibility initiatives. Selecting the right partner enables each party to leverage the strengths of the other, further ensuring the program’s success.
Robert Israel, Ph.D. is Vice President, Global Sustainability & Regulatory Affairs at Diversey, a leading global provider of commercial cleaning, sanitation and hygiene solutions.