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Tips for a successful relationship between NGOs and companies 2008-05-26  

In the West, the collaboration between a company and an NGO is one of the most important actions of CSR. In Romania, however, things are far from the same. The Director of the Environmental Partnership Foundation is explaining the reasons for these situations and provides solutions for a better collaboration between companies and NGOs.

Non-governmental and business sectors need each other because their interests are converging social responsibility. As a result, companies - NGOs type collaborations should be present in a much larger number. For now, though, we can't speak of a generalized phenomenon, despite the existence of several successful initiatives.

The causes for which there are no partnerships between NGOs and companies

Lack of communication: the two sectors do not know each other enough, that's why mutual trust is built slowly and unwieldy.

Fewer Projects: the number of successful projects, developed in partnership with actors from the two spheres is still low.

Companies have not yet integrated CSR at a deep level: despite the accession to the European Union, the Romanian society and economy can be considered as "transitional". That's why, at this moment the Romanian CSR - is also one of transition or of "import", imposed by multinational companies. The number of domestic companies that have incorporated CSR in their organizational culture due to the desire to give something to the society is much lower than the number of those firms practicing CSR because it is "trendy".

NGOs see companies like a bag of money: the number of NGOs who see in a company only a "bag of money", it's still great. Such approaches may not lead to the strengthening of the cooperation between the two sectors, but on the contrary, remove companies from NGOs, and vice versa.

The two parts are not considered equal partners: If the two sides cannot be considered on equal level, cooperation is doomed. Often, companies find that they have the right to dictate in a joint project, on the grounds that "we give the money." In the other camp, many NGOs forget to "keep close". I mean, they forget to involve the company in carrying out the project on the grounds that "it's our idea, and we know better what needs to be done, you only have to give us the money".

From where comes the lack of confidence between NGOs and companies?

The NGO Sector fails to improve their image and the negative perception is in large measure due to the political class. In the 1990s, politicians allowed the adoption of laws that have favored the emergence of “phantom” NGOs. Their only purpose was to import second-hand cars or other activities of this kind. This aspect was widely reflected in the press of the time, although the vast majority of NGOs succeeded then, and nowadays, extraordinary achievements. Unfortunately, very few of their achievements come to be known by the general public, not only because of the reduced capacity of NGOs to promote the successes, but also the low appetite of the press towards such topics.


There are several tens of thousands of NGOs registered in Romania. We start from the idea that not all of them are active, but there are still thousands who have activities that benefit the society. It would be normal for the majority of their work, in the spirit of total transparency, to publish at least annual reports. However, the number of reports submitted in recent years in the contest "The Best Annual Report", organized by the Donors Forum in Romania, has not exceeded at any edition of the figure 60. The truth is that firms do not excel in this respect, the evidence being the relatively small number of enrolled companies at the “Top Corporate Awards”, organized by the Donors Forum of Romania. For example, at the 2006 edition only 22 companies submitted out of the 400 invited companies. The rest of them motivated their abstention just by saying that "the data requested are confidential".


How can NGOs gain the trust of companies?

1. Transparency and continue communication

In order to win the confidence of corporate funders, NGOs must be prepared to communicate the organization's mission and objectives, together with the offer of projects. It is more useful to adopt a strategy of "baby steps", whereby first to know the potential partners, to build confidence and mutual respect and only later to move to the concrete projects. The NGO can start through sending annual reports (obviously, if they have), collection of articles from newspapers, presentation of projects, etc.; materials that show a serious, transparent activity, that are well reflected in the media.

2. We are equal partners

By the moment the NGO agrees to enter into a partnership only as a secondary actor, being ready to accept any kind of compromise for the sake of money, the fate of the cooperation between the two partners is sealed.

3. Financial Contribution to the project

When a common project is started, it is a positive argument if the NGO contributes to the project, also, from a financial point of view. Such an approach instills confidence of corporate partner, sharing the financial risk. At the same time, strengthens the position of the NGO in the partnership relation, and this fact can be used as a strong argument in negotiations.

 4. Nurturing relationship

 Throughout the project, but after its implementation too, it is extremely important that a corporate partner to be informed and involved in the decisions. An email or a phone call that draw the partner's attention upon some press articles related to the project can work wonders. NGOs must know and be able to share the excitement caused by the success of a project.


Two examples of successful partnerships


1. With the withdrawal of major American donor foundations, the Environmental Partnership Foundation revised its own fundraising strategy. That meant the portfolio diversification of funding sources. Automatically, the companies have become the main sources for funding our programs. Thus, we were able to provide very solid partnerships with MOL Romania, the APEMIN Tusnad SA and the TOYOTA Europe, companies with whom we have developed funding programs at national level, in the field of environmental protection.

The results of the Green Spaces Program, 2007 Edition, surpassed our expectations. Cumulative figures prove these facts:

• 5842 persons participated;

• Over 58.200 m2 of green areas have been remade/created;

• 5.854 trees and fruit trees have been planted;

• Over 6600 seedlings of flowers and ornamental plants have been planted.

In addition to these concrete results, recall and some collateral results:

• There were defined partnerships between non-governmental organizations and schools/public institutions;

• There have been raised significant funds for other projects besides those approved through financing provided by MOL - Environmental Partnership Foundation;

• Some projects have become the starting point for larger projects.


2. Another example of a successful partnership is with Apemin Tusnad SA. For several years, we've all met at events through the projects carried out by environmental NGOs, funded by us and sponsored by the company.


We became friends and I got know very well with the major shareholder, the general manager of the company, Kurkó Gyárfás. I had the pleasant surprise to meet a man with love for nature and environment. As a result, it wasn’t hard to involve the company as co-funder for one of the most important of our grant-making programs (Environment Partnership) that currently is funding 16 environmental projects which are implemented in various areas of the Country.

A special aspect of this partnership is connected to the fact that besides the above mentioned program, ApeminTusnad contributed with 20,000 RON to the "endowment" fund of our Foundation. As far as I know, this is the only sponsorship of its kind in the country.

In both cases, the success is due to a number of essential factors:

• The seriousness of the partners;

• Keeping promises;

• Transparent approach;

• Strategic thinking in long term partnerships.


Article written by Laszlo Potozky, Director of the Environmental Partnership Foundation for

26th May 2008


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