Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships for Social Good

As cross-sector collaboration continues to become more essential, an increased focus on strategically selecting partners, will become even more vital to create real and lasting change.
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It has become increasingly clear that cross-sector partnerships are an effective way to address global issues in a sustainable manner. But what isn't as clear cut is how to select strategic partners and evaluate the potential of relationships, leverage the unique expertise and capabilities of each partner and measure progress and success.

These significant considerations were ones that my co-panelists from Humana, PricewaterhouseCoopers and USAID and I discussed during a partnerships-focused session at The Conference Board's Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability Conference earlier this summer. As companies begin to collaborate more actively with nonprofits and government to address societal issues, we must take a step back to analyze how these sectors can more effectively engage in partnerships to maximize impact.

Strategically Selecting Partners

In order to achieve the necessary momentum and support to make a sustained difference, companies must place emphasis on selecting partners with visions, goals and interests that complement their own. Since there are numerous nonprofits addressing similar issues, it's important to analyze whether each organization has the necessary capabilities, resources and credibility to achieve something bigger together than each could have done alone. It seems simple, but it's not. Some partnerships are much more successful than others. It's important to analyze key criteria at the outset, which in the case of the company reviewing the nonprofit, range from analyzing the financial health of the organization, judged by measures such as contributions to the mission vs. overhead, to the ratings from credible outside evaluators such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau, as well as looking at any other partnerships the nonprofit has already established, and evaluating their success. Nonprofits also make evaluations. Some are interested in partners that solely contribute financial support, others want involved corporate partners and are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to make this work well.

When evaluating the long-term potential of a relationship, it is important to assess whether you collectively have the right tools -- technology, products and human and financial resources -- and the appropriate level of commitment to sustain the partnership and benefit the cause. It is also important to encourage open and honest dialogue with partners -- allowing both parties to express their needs and desires and to outline multi-year plans for the partnerships to establish a roadmap and manage expectations.

Leveraging the Unique Expertise and Capabilities of Each Partner

A key benefit of aligned partnerships is that each partner can leverage their experience, resources and diverse expertise to enhance their impact. While nonprofits commonly have invaluable insight into the local region and deep issue area expertise, the private sector, when choosing an issue that aligns closely with its business expertise, also brings deep knowledge from another angle. In addition, the for-profit organization brings its in-kind, monetary and employee resources to amplify results. Engaging employees is a significant way to strengthen partnerships and increase a company's impact. By developing employee ambassador programs, matched giving programs and volunteer events, companies can encourage employee involvement and create much more impact and interest in their corporate citizenship programs.

When my company, ITT Corporation, was working to establish our signature corporate citizenship program, ITT Watermark, it was important for us to identify partners that had an interest and were able to work with us in all the ways I have mentioned. Our selection of nonprofit partners took significant time upfront, but the time was well invested. Our choices have resulted in strong partnerships with Water For People, Mercy Corps, and the China Women's Development Foundation. All three organizations were willing to work with us in all of the ways we wanted to contribute. This has resulted in a great start to delivering as a team on our stated mission: to provide access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education to those in need. As we expand the program and look to new geographies, we will use what we have learned to build on our existing partnerships and to select additional partners that will broaden our reach and impact on this issue.

Measuring and Tracking Impact

Finally, partners must carefully define metrics for success and continuously track and measure performance in order to demonstrate impact objectively. For most public-private partnerships, key metrics focus on the direct impact to the cause -- ranging from dollars donated to number of individuals affected. Different measures may be important to each partner so it is critical to outline these indicators from the start. It is also vital to remain practical, measuring progress toward short-term goals and continuing to establish plans for the long term. Measurement is an invaluable means for partners to track progress and assess whether or not they need to adapt aspects of the partnership to enhance their impact.

Overall, finding workable solutions to critical societal issues requires all sectors and citizens to work together -- leveraging diverse expertise to spark innovation. As cross-sector collaboration continues to become more essential, an increased focus on strategically selecting partners, leveraging unique expertise and measuring impact will become even more vital to create real and lasting change.

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