There are huge opportunities for the corporate sector to work with civil society, but there should be clear guidelines for good partnerships between the two.

For corporates, these include :

  • Staying on course: Ensuring that your objectives dovetail and that you are not forcing an organisation to change course to where it doesn’t want to go or where it doesn’t have the skills sets to go. This will invariably end in a sad way.
  • Respecting knowledge: Respect your partner’s knowledge in its field of endeavour and in the community in which it works.
  •  Timeousness: Whilst sharing skills can be enormously helpful, there is no purpose in trying to micro-manage a partner organisation. Besides being bad manners, it can undermine what both parties are trying to achieve. Understand that social change takes time. Immediate impact in the social sphere is unlikely.
  • Overheads contributions: Make a contribution to overheads. Organisations cannot function without overheads. Companies would not dream of running without offices, equipment, marketing and staff. So goes the NGO. Each project has to pay its way in the organisation including oversight, governance, rental, supplies, equipment etc.
  • Building capacity: Make a contribution towards building the capacity of your partner organisations. No business would dream of eliminating staff training and resources from its budget. So goes the NGO.
  • Costs: Salaries: Don’t be judgemental about costs such as salaries. There is no reason why people running NGOs should live on a pittance. They are professionals in their own right and are partners with the corporate sector. Don’t revert to the charitable paradigm and reduce them to beggars. It is humiliating to use the power game because the funds come from the corporate entity. These organisations are enabling the corporate sector to undertake interventions that they simply cannot do themselves.
  • Exiting relationships: Be clear about how you exit a relationship. A warning is not an exit strategy. Companies could open doors to other donors; provide training and capacity building in fundraising and development; contribute towards an endowment. If you have a long term relationship, it is unethical to stop support suddenly.
  • Committing: Make a medium to long term commitment. Organisations cannot make guarantees that their work will endure if they need to continually resubmit requests for support on an annual basis. This insecurity leads to staff losses, and an inability to plan for the future.
  • Due diligence: Do your due diligence. Before investing in an organisation, ensure that it is sustainable, that it has the skills required to undertake its projects and that you are confident and have trust in its leadership. This means that companies need to know their partners and that this is not just a paper relationship. Meet with the Director, visit their offices. The state of their working environment will tell you immediately if the organisation is well managed or not.
  • Reserves and endowments: a good thing! Understand that reserve funds and endowments are a good thing. The argument that an organisation has a reserve and therefore doesn’t require funding is spurious. What this actually means is that the organisation will be there to carry out its objectives if things go wrong financially. Because non-profit donor income is subject to the whims of donors, it is good practice to build a reserve to see the organisation through transitions. Donors who object to an organisation’s financial success are operating in a patronising, charitable paradigm – expecting professionalism, yet abandoning their own business principles in the case of non-profit organisations.

AUTHOR: Shelagh Gastrow, Former Executive Director – Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement

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