Despite favourable attitudes among experts, public equivocal about NGO-corporate collaboration

One of the biggest trends in corporate social responsibility at the moment is the partnering of large corporate players with charities and NGOs. Initiatives such as Swiss Re’s work with Oxfam, CARE’s work with Unilever and Save the Children’s collaboration with Procter and Gamble have variously been cited as models for this sort of association.  Yet while such partnerships meet approval among CSR professionals, GlobeScan’s research suggests that the public themselves take a more sceptical view.

When asked as part of our Multi Actor Collaboration Survey in late 2012, 63 percent of sustainability experts from the worlds of government, academia and business, as well as the NGO and service sectors, thought it was likely that this sort of partnership would become more common. Over half (58%) also said that NGO-corporate alliances were likely to be effective in tackling single issues. This compares to the 39 percent who said that multi actor collaborations across various issues and sectors were likely to be effective.
However, when we polled the public on their attitudes to NGO-corporate partnerships in 2012 the results were more equivocal. Though 75 percent of people polled across 23 countries agreed that they would have greater respect for a company if it partnered with an NGO, 53 percent of respondents also agreed that the would respect an NGO less in the event that it partnered with a company.
So, how do we explain this disconnect between public and expert views? As the number of partnerships increase, they are certainly gaining traction among opinion formers and becoming an accepted part of the landscape—though with only slightly more than half of our experts rating them as effective this suggests results may be mixed. As we have observed previously, however, companies suffer from a major trust deficit among the public, while NGOs fare much better. So while some of the NGO “halo effect” rubs off on companies who partner with them, NGOs may be seen as compromising their integrity by providing cover to companies whose ethics are questioned.
In the short term both parties have an interest in continuing such alliances, NGOs for the funds, corporations for the reputational dividend. But in the longer term companies may need to be seen to undertake actions in the common good that cut across their own sectional interests if they are to rebuild trust with the public.
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.