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Stellar Partnerships

Stellar Partnerships: Corporate & Community Partnership

3 ways that trust drives innovation

Happy year of the dragon! It’s supposed to be a year of growth and regeneration, with the promise of greater prosperity. I am a dragon and so is my husband. Folklore says that two dragons together either get on fabulously well or really badly. So far so good after 30 years, but he’s forewarned that a divorce will look like World War Three on steroids.

What sustains a relationship over time is the willingness to adapt and innovate. But there needs to be a core foundation of trust first. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer report shows that people trust scientists, peers and business experts more than NGOs to lead on innovation and new technologies. If non-profits want to find innovative solutions to complex societal problems, then corporate partnerships are the key to success.

Trust is seen by Edelman as a combination of ethics and competency. The latest survey shows that businesses are almost level pegging with NGOs in ratings of ethics but are judged 16pts higher than NGOs in competency. There is an even greater gap between business and government, with business rating 52pts higher on competency and 32pts on ethics.

The relationship between non-profits and the business sector is sometimes uneven. Whilst some NFPs are keen to embrace the full potential of partnering with corporates, others are fearful that corporates will seek to interfere with their programs. The latter group cling to their theories of change and are reluctant to have any ‘outsiders’ challenge their thinking. But why would you not partner with organisations that have bigger resources, new expertise and valuable assets? Non-profits seem content to draw on government support, even to the extent of being seen as an implementation arm of government services. But there is an underlying reluctant to embrace corporate collaborations, even though businesses are seen as more trusted and more ethical than government.  

Building trust requires non-profits and businesses to get to know each other. Businesses aren’t trying to become charities, but they do want to contribute to social impact. Non-profits can build trust by measuring and articulating the impact they make. Data gathering, beyond simple activity based measurement is a foundational element to a successful partnership. When GSK and Save the Children started their award-winning partnership, they set out key measures of success that could be monitored over time. Over 10 years later they can confidently celebrate the 2.8million children’s lives that have been changed.

The Edelman survey shows that listening is a Top 3 trust building action. ‘Hear our concerns, let us ask questions.’ That’s what society is demanding of both non-profits and businesses, if they are to be trusted in leading change and innovation. Non-profits often talk about the voice of the community or the voice of the donor. But how often does your non-profit truly listen to the voice of corporate partners? Many corporates would love to use their expertise to help with your biggest challenges. Are you willing to listen and let them collaborate or would you prefer a large donation of cash in return for a program report and some nice social media? Save the Children encouraged their maternal and child health expert to attend R&D meetings with GSK. By sharing expertise they worked together to identify and develop a new way to prevent sepsis in newborn babies.

Trust is built over time, through many small actions and interactions. When there is a foundation of trust, you can both explore the possibilities of innovation together. If non-profits won’t partner with corporates, then the corporates may well turn to government instead. With a 52-point deficit in the perception of competency, they have little to lose. Make sure you’re ready to make the most of the innovation that corporate partners have to offer before someone else does.