While the benefits of partnering with a local civil society organization may be widely recognized, finding a local partner can be a challenging and daunting task for any business. Businesses frequently ask questions such as, “What percentage of costs should go to program activities?” or “What should the organizational structure of a partner look like?”  

In my work on BSR’s HERproject, which connects local health NGOs with suppliers and buyers, I’ve collected the following tips and tricks for selecting a local partner.

  1. Check out the mission: It’s important to target local NGOs with a mission that aligns with your company’s sustainability strategy.
  2. Understand the legal regulations: Legal codes and tax structures vary from country to country.  Ensuring that the NGO is registered with the government can make payment and processing much easier. In the United States, for example, all charities should be officially registered as a 501(c)(3) and hold a certificate of good standing.
  3. Consider the governance structure: Just as in business, NGOs and other civil society organizations are often lead by boards of directors. Not surprisingly then, it is helpful to understand who is on the board and how it is run. Be sure that the board is free of conflicts of interest, and board compensation is commensurate with activities.
  4. Passion and organization go a long way: Many civil society organizations are lead by passionate, courageous, and hard working individuals who have dedicated their lives to the promotion of social or environmental protection. However, passion is not always enough. Ensure that the NGO also has the necessary organizational systems (accounting, monitoring, management, etc.) and personnel to communicate effectively and provide required documentation to the company.
  5. Follow the money: What percentage of cost should go to programming? The answer to this question varies by country, but according to the Better Business Bureau, at least 65 percent of expenses should be designated to program activities and no more than 35 percent designated to fundraising.    
  6. Reputation—help or hindrance? A local partner’s reputation can often make or break the success of a partnership. Consider the following simple questions when finding a local partner: How does the organization communicate with the targeted community? What is the relationship between the organization and target community? What feedback is being given on the organization by other stakeholders?

What criteria does your company use in selecting local partners?