Are we asking for the right things?

We all know what we want from companies, right? Cash, lots of it, for our fabulous and vital work. And because just about every charity in the world (apart from the likes of Greenpeace who are too pure to sully themselves in this way…) is wanting corporate $$, we charities scrap like very scrappy things to secure the dosh for our cause.

Which often leads to disappointment. Corporate cash giving is actually pretty small whichever way you measure it. Whether as a proportion of corporate revenues, profits or charity total income, donations from companies are really not that significant. Few companies give away as much as 1% of their post tax profits and the majority give much less than this.

There are good reasons for this parsimony. While the view of people like Elaine Sternberg that corporate giving equates to theft from shareholders remains a minority opinion, there are plenty of business leaders who see their role as only being about enhancing shareholder value . Giving away money doesn’t fit comfortably into this picture.

Every rule has exception and there are plenty of companies out there giving away money which there’s no reason not to pursue. Assuming it fits in with the mission of your charity. But overall, I wonder if charities are asking business for the right things.

Companies might not particularly like giving away cash but they control enormous resources. And non profits can access some of these resources to significantly impact on their mission.

Take pharmaceuticals. Big pharma companies aren’t especially impressive donors to NGOs in cash terms. But they do give away drugs and the value of these donations enormously exceeds their cash giving. And this isn’t just a tax thing (although tax incentives aren’t insignificant), donations of drugs by the world’s biggest pharma companies are having an enormous impact on dealing with a whole range of diseases which currently are major burden on over 1 billion of the world’s poorest people.

We are now seeing an increasing number of a new type of corporate/NGO partnership which sees the company providing much more than just cash but really leveraging their knowledge, expertise and value chain to achieve significant things. Sightsavers, for example, are working with Unilever in sub Saharan Africa to develop marketing campaigns to encourage personal hygiene, helping to eliminate diseases such as the blinding condition trachoma. Technology partnerships, for example developing mobile apps in Africa to address key information needs such as crop price data for farmers, also offer exciting opportunities for collaboration.

Or marketing initiatives such as WWF-UK’s Rainforest Rescue partnership with Sky which combines fundraising from customers, suppliers and staff with awareness activity to increase understanding of deforestation issues with the UK public.

The Sky example is interesting because Rainforest Rescue looks quite a lot like Sky’s own charity (although it is a partnership with WWF). NGOs cannot simply assume that companies will partner with them. Businesses can do this stuff themselves and we are seeing quite a few examples of companies either setting up their own operational charities (the cable giant Liberty Global and Lessons for Life, for example) or even running development projects themselves.

So partnering with companies in a way that really utilises the resources they have to offer has a lot of potential for NGOs. There are plenty of pitfalls. Getting companies to give what is really valuable to you rather than what suits them is a continuous negotiation. Gifts in kind can be a burden not a boon if they are not the right resources in the correct place.

But done right, a corporate/NGO partnership that works at a properly strategic level can achieve big outcomes. It should involve cash if at all possible but the greater value may well be in other things a company can give you.

(For more on this subject, come to the session on corporate/NGO partnerships that the fabulous Imogen Ward of Lessons for Life Foundation and I are doing at the International Fundraising Conference in the Netherlands on 14th-17th October).

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