top of page

Loading Post

Judith Hochhauser Schneider

Feb 28, 2024

6

min read

3 Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships with NGOs

How to develop long-term, meaningful partnerships through trust, communications, and accountability

3 Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships with NGOs

When I was asked to lead a roundtable discussion at GreenBiz 24 – the premier sustainability conference for business leaders – I jumped at the chance!

 

The session called, “Elevate, Collaborate, Stand Out: Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships with NGOs,” pulled from my eight years leading global partnerships at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for some of the biggest brands including Walmart, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Nike, as well as my decade of corporate work before that. I shared my learnings with a robust mix of sustainability professionals, eager with questions about partnerships. After the session, there was continued interest from those who couldn’t attend. Here are some of those insights...



"Elevate, Collaborate, Stand Out: Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships With NGOs
Judith Hochhauser Schneider shared her experience working in corporate partnerships at GreenBiz 24, in Phoenix, AZ.

 

In my experience, strong personal relationships are at the core of any successful corporate partnership with NGOs. But if you don’t already have those relationships, where do you begin? Start by focusing on these three key elements:

  


1. Choose the right partner


To create a successful partnership, start by selecting the right partner. While the organization is important, so are the specific types of projects each side wants to work on. The “WHO“ is as important as the “WHAT”. Potential partners who look good on paper could want to focus on vastly different initiatives, which doesn’t make it a good fit. So, how do you find that perfect match? 

 

  • Align on values and objectives: Prioritize partners who share similar values and sustainability objectives. Ensuring alignment at this fundamental level lays the groundwork for a harmonious and purpose-driven collaboration.

  • Confirm partner capacity: Assess the partner's capacity and capabilities to dedicate to a partnership. This involves evaluating their resources, expertise, and track record in relevant areas of sustainability.

  • Choose mutually beneficial projects: Successful partnerships thrive when there is a balance of give-and-take, with each party contributing and receiving value in return.

  • Ensure organizational buy-in: Confirm that there is genuine commitment and support from all key stakeholders. Buy-in needs to come from leadership at equivalent levels within both entities, as well as from field teams and business units. Again, it is about balance.


Begin by being introspective about the values and capabilities of your own organization and whether your prospective partner shares those same values around sustainability. Not only do the values need to align, but so does the level of contribution from each partner, which will obviously look different for each party. Companies have dollars, but the strength of their brand and marketing capabilities can further amplify the work bringing along other players. NGOs and companies might both have technical expertise (science, R&D) and convening power, but each brings its own - and unique - networks and knowledge base.

 

The WWF and The Coca-Cola Company Partnership, which I led back in 2012, is a great example. It was the first of its kind; a corporation and an NGO joining forces to create a sustainability partnership focused on environmental challenges ranging from freshwater conservation to global agricultural issues and natural resource scarcity. Together the partnership was able to address Coca-Cola’s supply chain risk associated with its single most important ingredient… fresh water. Over time, the partnership grew and spanned over 50 countries, focusing on ensuring healthy, thriving freshwater basins worldwide. With WWF's conservation network extending to 100+ countries around the world, and Coca-Cola boasting bottling and manufacturing facilities in over 200 countries, there was an obvious fit with regard to the size and reach of these two organizations. Their alignment of values and objectives in sustainability was critical and instrumental to the energy, commitment, and success of this relationship. Like the WWF/Coca-Cola Partnership, find the right organizational fit, then select the right first project that is mutually and equally beneficial for all organizations, and grow from there.

 

 

2. Define goals, metrics, and accountability


In partnerships, success hinges on more than good intentions. Effective partnerships require a clear alignment of goals, metrics, and accountability measures to ensure that efforts are not only meaningful but also impactful.


  • Set measurable targets: Begin by defining clear, measurable targets that reflect the desired outcomes of the partnership, as well as those of each partner. Ideally these targets should be relevant to the overarching sustainability goals of the company and the mission of the NGO and demonstrate tangible impact. Do this at the beginning! Setting these at the beginning fosters accountability, open dialog, and sets the specific metrics for evaluating success.

  • Monitor performance: Establish robust accountability mechanisms to track progress effectively. Continuously monitor performance against predefined metrics. Be proactive in identifying any deviations or challenges and make necessary adjustments to stay on track.

  • Evaluate impact: Assess the collaboration's effectiveness by checking if desired goals are met and identifying areas for improvement or adjustment. There is no right or wrong number for how often you assess whether the partnership is meeting its goals. It could be annually, quarterly, or weekly. The key is to ensure the governance structure allows ample time for adjustments when goals aren't being met. Most importantly, you want to ensure it is based on the governance structure agreed to by both parties and should be set up to give you sufficient time to course correct once it’s obvious that goals aren’t being met.

 

Through this focused approach, organizations can foster strong, mutually beneficial partnerships that drive meaningful change and achieve shared goals. Partnership goals should be aligned with internal incentives for long-term success. Aligning goals, metrics, and accountability lays the groundwork for collaboration that is not only effective but also sustainable overall.

 

 

3. Regular clear, transparent, and consistent communication


Consistent and honest communication is crucial to foster a sense of trust and reliability within the partnership. Building this trust on a personal level strengthens the relationship and paves the way for smoother collaboration. Be available to meet face-to-face so you get to know each other beyond the roles you hold around the partnership. Establish group norms and culture within the partnership. Remember, you are people first.

 

  • Drive honest communication: Embrace openness in all communications by being direct and clear when conveying ideas, concerns, and updates. Transparency builds trust and fosters a sense of openness within the partnership. Encourage open dialogue and active listening to foster a collaborative problem-solving environment.

  • Establish consistent cadence of timely communication: Set a regular rhythm for communication to ensure that information flows smoothly among all parties. Consistency in communication helps maintain momentum and prevents misunderstandings. It also fosters a space for addressing concerns or challenges if they arise. Communicate results to leadership, employees, and customers to further amplify the partnership’s impact and ensure the longevity of the relationship.

  • Avoid surprises: Stay proactive in communication. Keep all parties informed about relevant developments, challenges, or changes in plans to eliminate unexpected surprises that may disrupt the partnership or corrode trust.

  • Ask the hard questions: Address difficult topics early and often. Open communication requires a willingness to confront challenges head-on and seek clarity on important issues, even if they may be uncomfortable.

Communication is essential for both the maintenance of the partnership and further program growth. Know who supports this partnership and why. Clear, transparent, and consistent communication serves as a cornerstone for collaboration, fostering trust, alignment, and driving collective impact.

 

 

In conclusion, remain flexible


Everyone knows there are no quick fixes in sustainability. Corporate partnerships are no exception. Start small but think big and approach the partnership with a long-term perspective. Always. And remain flexible so you are ready to adapt to all changing conditions.

 

During my summer internship in Nairobi, one of my advisors reminded me of the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” That is the essence of these partnerships! Building successful corporate sustainability partnerships with NGOs requires choosing the right partner, strategic alignment of goals, transparent communication, accountability, and a steadfast commitment to long-term success. It is not always easy. But it is certainly worth it.

 

At Global Impact Collective, we have deep expertise in fostering these exact kinds of partnerships, and it is one of our key differentiators. Our seasoned professionals have built the trust and relationships over multiple decades in the sustainability, strategy, technology, and design sectors. The Global Impact Collective has a practice designed to help other organizations do the same. If we can help you with partnership development, in the U.S. or globally, please contact us.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Recent Posts

3 Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships with NGOs
Design Swarm for Circularity: Harnessing Our Collective Genius
Global Impact Collective featured on the World Wildlife Fund’s Sustainability Works blog
  • Writer's pictureJudith Hochhauser Schneider

3 Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships with NGOs

When I was asked to lead a roundtable discussion at GreenBiz 24 – the premier sustainability conference for business leaders – I jumped at the chance!

 

The session called, “Elevate, Collaborate, Stand Out: Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships with NGOs,” pulled from my eight years leading global partnerships at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for some of the biggest brands including Walmart, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Nike, as well as my decade of corporate work before that. I shared my learnings with a robust mix of sustainability professionals, eager with questions about partnerships. After the session, there was continued interest from those who couldn’t attend. Here are some of those insights...



"Elevate, Collaborate, Stand Out: Keys to Successful Corporate Sustainability Partnerships With NGOs
Judith Hochhauser Schneider shared her experience working in corporate partnerships at GreenBiz 24, in Phoenix, AZ.

 

In my experience, strong personal relationships are at the core of any successful corporate partnership with NGOs. But if you don’t already have those relationships, where do you begin? Start by focusing on these three key elements:

  


1. Choose the right partner


To create a successful partnership, start by selecting the right partner. While the organization is important, so are the specific types of projects each side wants to work on. The “WHO“ is as important as the “WHAT”. Potential partners who look good on paper could want to focus on vastly different initiatives, which doesn’t make it a good fit. So, how do you find that perfect match? 

 

  • Align on values and objectives: Prioritize partners who share similar values and sustainability objectives. Ensuring alignment at this fundamental level lays the groundwork for a harmonious and purpose-driven collaboration.

  • Confirm partner capacity: Assess the partner's capacity and capabilities to dedicate to a partnership. This involves evaluating their resources, expertise, and track record in relevant areas of sustainability.

  • Choose mutually beneficial projects: Successful partnerships thrive when there is a balance of give-and-take, with each party contributing and receiving value in return.

  • Ensure organizational buy-in: Confirm that there is genuine commitment and support from all key stakeholders. Buy-in needs to come from leadership at equivalent levels within both entities, as well as from field teams and business units. Again, it is about balance.


Begin by being introspective about the values and capabilities of your own organization and whether your prospective partner shares those same values around sustainability. Not only do the values need to align, but so does the level of contribution from each partner, which will obviously look different for each party. Companies have dollars, but the strength of their brand and marketing capabilities can further amplify the work bringing along other players. NGOs and companies might both have technical expertise (science, R&D) and convening power, but each brings its own - and unique - networks and knowledge base.

 

The WWF and The Coca-Cola Company Partnership, which I led back in 2012, is a great example. It was the first of its kind; a corporation and an NGO joining forces to create a sustainability partnership focused on environmental challenges ranging from freshwater conservation to global agricultural issues and natural resource scarcity. Together the partnership was able to address Coca-Cola’s supply chain risk associated with its single most important ingredient… fresh water. Over time, the partnership grew and spanned over 50 countries, focusing on ensuring healthy, thriving freshwater basins worldwide. With WWF's conservation network extending to 100+ countries around the world, and Coca-Cola boasting bottling and manufacturing facilities in over 200 countries, there was an obvious fit with regard to the size and reach of these two organizations. Their alignment of values and objectives in sustainability was critical and instrumental to the energy, commitment, and success of this relationship. Like the WWF/Coca-Cola Partnership, find the right organizational fit, then select the right first project that is mutually and equally beneficial for all organizations, and grow from there.

 

 

2. Define goals, metrics, and accountability


In partnerships, success hinges on more than good intentions. Effective partnerships require a clear alignment of goals, metrics, and accountability measures to ensure that efforts are not only meaningful but also impactful.


  • Set measurable targets: Begin by defining clear, measurable targets that reflect the desired outcomes of the partnership, as well as those of each partner. Ideally these targets should be relevant to the overarching sustainability goals of the company and the mission of the NGO and demonstrate tangible impact. Do this at the beginning! Setting these at the beginning fosters accountability, open dialog, and sets the specific metrics for evaluating success.

  • Monitor performance: Establish robust accountability mechanisms to track progress effectively. Continuously monitor performance against predefined metrics. Be proactive in identifying any deviations or challenges and make necessary adjustments to stay on track.

  • Evaluate impact: Assess the collaboration's effectiveness by checking if desired goals are met and identifying areas for improvement or adjustment. There is no right or wrong number for how often you assess whether the partnership is meeting its goals. It could be annually, quarterly, or weekly. The key is to ensure the governance structure allows ample time for adjustments when goals aren't being met. Most importantly, you want to ensure it is based on the governance structure agreed to by both parties and should be set up to give you sufficient time to course correct once it’s obvious that goals aren’t being met.

 

Through this focused approach, organizations can foster strong, mutually beneficial partnerships that drive meaningful change and achieve shared goals. Partnership goals should be aligned with internal incentives for long-term success. Aligning goals, metrics, and accountability lays the groundwork for collaboration that is not only effective but also sustainable overall.

 

 

3. Regular clear, transparent, and consistent communication


Consistent and honest communication is crucial to foster a sense of trust and reliability within the partnership. Building this trust on a personal level strengthens the relationship and paves the way for smoother collaboration. Be available to meet face-to-face so you get to know each other beyond the roles you hold around the partnership. Establish group norms and culture within the partnership. Remember, you are people first.

 

  • Drive honest communication: Embrace openness in all communications by being direct and clear when conveying ideas, concerns, and updates. Transparency builds trust and fosters a sense of openness within the partnership. Encourage open dialogue and active listening to foster a collaborative problem-solving environment.

  • Establish consistent cadence of timely communication: Set a regular rhythm for communication to ensure that information flows smoothly among all parties. Consistency in communication helps maintain momentum and prevents misunderstandings. It also fosters a space for addressing concerns or challenges if they arise. Communicate results to leadership, employees, and customers to further amplify the partnership’s impact and ensure the longevity of the relationship.

  • Avoid surprises: Stay proactive in communication. Keep all parties informed about relevant developments, challenges, or changes in plans to eliminate unexpected surprises that may disrupt the partnership or corrode trust.

  • Ask the hard questions: Address difficult topics early and often. Open communication requires a willingness to confront challenges head-on and seek clarity on important issues, even if they may be uncomfortable.

Communication is essential for both the maintenance of the partnership and further program growth. Know who supports this partnership and why. Clear, transparent, and consistent communication serves as a cornerstone for collaboration, fostering trust, alignment, and driving collective impact.

 

 

In conclusion, remain flexible


Everyone knows there are no quick fixes in sustainability. Corporate partnerships are no exception. Start small but think big and approach the partnership with a long-term perspective. Always. And remain flexible so you are ready to adapt to all changing conditions.

 

During my summer internship in Nairobi, one of my advisors reminded me of the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” That is the essence of these partnerships! Building successful corporate sustainability partnerships with NGOs requires choosing the right partner, strategic alignment of goals, transparent communication, accountability, and a steadfast commitment to long-term success. It is not always easy. But it is certainly worth it.

 

At Global Impact Collective, we have deep expertise in fostering these exact kinds of partnerships, and it is one of our key differentiators. Our seasoned professionals have built the trust and relationships over multiple decades in the sustainability, strategy, technology, and design sectors. The Global Impact Collective has a practice designed to help other organizations do the same. If we can help you with partnership development, in the U.S. or globally, please contact us.

Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page