Trusted partnerships rely on a two-way street

For decades, non-governmental organizations have ranked corporations in terms of their environmental responsibility. Now, corporations are turning the tables and ranking NGOs for their integrity, effectiveness, and overall level of influence.

The GreenBiz Group, based in Oakland California just released a fascinating report that assess NGO performance based on feedback from over 200 companies. Whereas in the past, NGOs influenced corporate behavior through intimidation and negative publicity, today these organizations are becoming essential partners with the companies they once bullied. The survey’s purpose is to educate NGOs on the type of partnership companies seek.

According to the press release, companies were asked to categorize NGOs into one of four groups:

  1. Trusted Partners – Corporate-friendly, highly credible, long-term partners with easy-to-find public success stories
  2. Useful Resources – Highly credible organizations known for creating helpful frameworks and services for corporate partners
  3. Brand Challenged – Credible, but not influential, organizations
  4. The Uninvited – Less broadly known groups, or those viewed more as critics than partners

This new framework for NGO-corporate alliances is yet another example of the how groups are forging relationships based on trust.  Whereas in the past, companies and groups defined their relationships through hierarchy and control, today these models being replaced by trust-based networks.

In a networked environment, such as the emergent NGO-corporate model, relationships depend on influence and cooperation. These principles are built on trust, which requires understanding – not fear and intimidation. In order to get things done, participants must work together by choice. And it’s clear from the framework above that companies aspire to elevate NGO relationships to the level of “partner.”

Surprisingly, only three NGOs achieved the highest rating of Trusted Partner. This tells us that the majority of NGOs have not yet developed internal cultures and service models that enable them to perform as a partner.

The very notion that companies want activists to consider themselves as partners and to aspire to these behaviors, reflects a seismic shift in this once highly contentious field. Instead of denying responsibility for the environment, companies are looking to forge lasting relationships with high-performing external experts.

However, NGOs are quickly learning that partnership requires two-way communication and alignment of goals and objectives. Gone are the days when NGOs can just reach for the nearest bullhorn to get their message out. Today, they must learn how to build more transparent, effective, and agile organizations that seek to fortify trust with their corporate partners. Like many organizations trying to make this shift from fear-based control to trust-based partnerships, the majority of NGOs will need to rebuild their culture from the ground up.

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