Insight & Analysis

Eight more common mistakes in multi-sector CSR partnerships

By Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global CSR expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and Advisory Service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.

Eight more common mistakes in multi-sector CSR partnerships
Natural Partnerships – Unnatural partners.  Last week I did a short piece on five common mistakes in multi-sector CSR partnerships.   This week I’m going to finish the list.

The numbering won’t continue from last week because I don’t know how to do that in Blogger!

If you haven’t read the last article you may want to go and read the opening paragraphs and the five mistakes.  You can find it here
1.      Not enough entrepreneurship and innovation
There is generally a high level of entrepreneurial energy and innovation amongst the partners at the beginning of a partnership.  In many cases they would not have gotten together to launch the partnership without the innovation and entrepreneurship of at least one of them.
As time goes by the partnership activities can become routine and the workers and leaders stop looking for ways to do things better and/or new areas that they might collaborate on that would be mutually beneficial.
Over time a stagnation can develop and energy drains from the partnership.  This can end up killing the partnership itself but more often it simply makes the partnership much more vulnerable to the impacts of other mistakes.
Diverse and committed partners collaborating and innovating together can solve complex puzzles
2.      Didn’t get to know each other deep enough and broad enough
Often partnerships will form quickly around a specific opportunity.  Partners will see that by collaborating they can advance their interests and objectives further than they could by working individually.
This can create a euphoria that tends to generate a forward momentum and the partners don’t take time to get to know each other well enough or deep enough.  This happens at the individual and the organizational level.
Then when issues arise and differences emerge they are often seen as surprises and somehow a betrayal of what was represented at the onset.  This can put a lot of strain on the relationships.
3.      Organizational stakeholders didn’t support it
Every organization has a range of internal and external stakeholders, many of which have significant influence and impact.  Sometimes a partnership will develop and create conflict with key stakeholders.
For example, many NGOs rely on individual and organizational donors for financing and for general support.  In some cases the same individuals and organizations are also writing checks to support advocacy NGOs that are in direct opposition to either the industry sector, or in some cases the actual partner (this can often happen where an industry partner has multiple projects, some of which are actively opposed by advocacy organizations)
This places leadership in uncomfortable positions and may result in the need to make hard choices if agreeing to disagree isn’t a viable option.
Similar situations can occur when development agencies begin to develop mechanisms that either enable direct funding of industry led CSR projects or that will facilitate or partner with such projects.
These development agencies often have key stakeholders that may be generally opposed to certain industries like extractives, or have unrealistic social performance expectations.  In many cases the development agency will also be providing direct or indirect support to the opposing organization.
Internal support and understanding is critical if an organization wants to be a strong partner
(see Seven proven strategies for getting colleagues onboard with CSR  http://bit.ly/7internalbestpractices)
4.      NGOs look at company as just a set of deep-pockets
A deep and nuanced understanding of the other partners is so critical.  Too often as the euphoria of the early days wears off deep seated, underlying assumptions and perspectives emerge that can be poisonous.
Partners (individuals and the institutions) forget that all partners are in the project because there is something in it for them. 
NGOs can start to perceive corporate partners as just a set of deep pockets, of money that should just be allocated in support of community and NGO priorities, without a thought for what’s in it for the company and how to optimize value across all partners and stakeholders.
5.      Company looks at NGO as just a do-gooder
In the same was as NGOs can see companies as just deep pockets, companies can often develop a perspective that NGO partners are only interested in doing good works and not understand the many other interests and realities of a modern NGO
6.      Project solitudes. 
No real collaboration between partners.  If not nurtured project partners can end up withdrawing, or being relegated to project silos.  This can result in each contributing individually, but can lose all of the potential synergy from the diversity of experience, perspectives and insights that each bring.
When this happens it can suck the energy out of a project and be the start of a downward spiral.
It may seem easier to carve things into discreet silos and minimize collaborative interactions, and the disagreements, stresses and tensions that can come with them.  In the long run it is far better to work together and get stronger by working through the differences, and staying open to the synergy that can be found in diversity.
  
As the African proverb says. 
If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.
Good partnerships go far.

  
7.     7. Unrealistic cost expectations
Cost expectations can be unrealistic.  Companies will sometimes think that NGOs will almost work for free, forgetting that they too have organizational and institutional overhead that needs to be covered.
NGOs will sometimes think that companies have tons of money and shouldn’t be concerned about cost.
8.      Different standards around quality, flexibility / adaptability and reporting
This can be especially true when small, nimble companies partner with development agencies that have seemingly incomprehensible sets of reporting and operational requirements. 
This can be especially true in partnerships where one partner comes with compliance requirements and obligations that are foreign to the other.

Multi-sector CSR partners can bring unique pieces of the puzzle to the table. They can create value and mitigate risk for all partners, and benefit society in the process.
Often they can be difficult to create and even more difficult to maintain, but the effort can be worth it.
I will be posting more thoughts on this topic in the coming weeks.  If you are interested, we are offering a certified executive training forum in Ottawa, Canada in March see below.
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