Types of Partnership

In the last few months we’ve been advising a department of the International Labour Organisation on potential new forms of collaboration with the private sector. When doing that work, I was surprised not to be able to find a clear and comprehensive typology of cross-sector partnerships, between companies and what we could term “public interest organisations” (i.e. NGOs, unions, intergovernmental organisations, social entrepreneurs etc). There are variety of typologies out there, in the consulting world and the academic literature, but they seemed to approach it from one angle and thus not cover everything. Id developed a typology of partnerships on the basis of their sphere of influence and scale of ambition, for my new book out next month. But a simple typology of partnerships based on the nature of the activity still seemed necessary for organisations and firms wanting to brainstorm on the kind of partnerships they could do. So, Ive put one together. Each type presents different opportunities and risks to the partners and to intended beneficiaries. Ill fill in examples along with those implications when facilitating the next brainstorm.

A typology of cross-sectoral partnerships, based on the type of activity involved:

* Sponsorship
The company provides funds for a public interest organisation to carry out its activities, often in return for some brand profile.

* Donation In-kind
The company provides its services, or staff or goods, for free or for significantly reduced cost. The business benefits from brand profile, and staff learning and motivation.

* Marketing
The company associates a cause with its products or services, and donates funds to the partner depending on sales, or the partner licences its name to the company. The company benefits from increases sales and brand profile.

* Co-financing and/or Joint Operation of Projects/Enterprises
The company works with the public interest organisation to co-design, or co-establish or co-finance a project or enterprise to achieve a public purpose. The company benefits from securer long-term returns on investment.

* Consultation, Research and Learning
The company participates in ongoing dialogues with partners to learn about public issues and to co-fund relevant research and educational activities with partners. The company benefits from learning, new knowledge, understanding and trust.

* Business Process Improvement
The company engages public benefit organisations to advise on improving the social, environmental, ethical or developmental impacts of its internal operations. The company benefits from expert, cheap and credible advice, as well as the benefits of the changes implemented and an enhanced reputation

* Standards and Guidelines Development
The company engages public benefit organisations to define best practice and how to implement it, including related monitoring and certification systems. The company benefits from a framework for organising internal improvements, and the brand benefit of meeting credible standards.

* Progressive Business Development
The company engages public benefit organisations to develop socially or environmentally preferable products and services, or to make existing products and services available to under-served markets or for unmet social needs. The company benefits from business development that might otherwise have been impossible or financially unworkable.

* Advocacy and Lobbying
The company works with partners to influence the attitudes, behaviours or policy positions of consumers, the general public, specific organisations or politicians on matters of common concern. The company benefits from more effective advocacy and lobbying, brand profile, an enhanced reputation, and the operational benefits of a positively influenced business environment.

* Multiple Actions
The company works with partners on a specific issue or area, to develop a wide range of potential activities, including those listed above and perhaps other new types of activity to address the issue. The company benefits from a framework for working with multiple partners on addressing the issue, with various positive outcomes depending on partnership activities.

Personally, I get more excited by the latter forms of partnership, as they have potential for far wider impact. The need for, and ways of creating such partnerships, you can read about in Evolving Partnerships: Engaging Business for Greater Social Change (out April 2011!)

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