What Can Companies Learn From Donors?

June 3, 2016

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Armed with experience working for the British Government’s aid agency, the Department for International Development (DFID), and as former Head of News for Save the Children, I relish the opportunity to advise companies on their CSR strategies here in Asia, but I find myself becoming very repetitive. I frequently have to remind companies that they can take, as well as give.

There is a reluctance to make many, sometimes any, demands and too often the relationship rarely goes beyond the handing over of a cheque. This is the least satisfactory form of partnership. Firstly, NGOs are not held to account for how they use donation and secondly, the donor has no sense of the impact of their contribution.

It seems to me that corporates would do well to follow the lead of the world’s major donors (DFID, the USA’s USAID, Sweden’s SIDA to name a few) who have been honing the process by which they engage with NGOs and UN agencies for decades.

Donors set out clear objectives for what they expect to be achieved with their donation, they set out the deliverables and hold the organization to account against them. Within the deliverables they will make clear what assets (photography, videography, case studies, etc) and in some instances publicity they would like and allocate funds for to cover it. After all the donors need to inform their stakeholders, tax payers primarily, how their hard earned cash has been spent. And of course overseas aid departments (not a politically correct term but it says what it does on the tin) constantly have to prove how effective aid is to keep opponents at bay who call for funds to be diverted back to home turf.

This all combines to result in donors being explicit about the communication elements of the projects and programmes they support. Companies need to think along similar lines.

It’s ok to make some demands. Companies are making a form of investment on behalf of their employees, shareholders and customers, and they need to know how successful that investment has been.

Companies therefore need to think through what content and data will enable them to demonstrate, and bring to life, the impact of their CSR spend, and ask for this from the outset.

My tips to companies on emulating donors engagement with NGOs:

  1. Be honest and clear about your motivations for a partnership, after all it should be mutually beneficial
  2. Have a contract so both parties are clear on the relationship and expectations.
  3. Be definitive about what deliverables you need.
  4. Hold the NGO accountable. Of course some smaller NGOs won’t have capacity to provide corporate-like reporting but assuming you made the expectations clear it should be possible.
  5. And expect the NGO to hold you accountable. It’s a partnership after all.