Charities have been urged to beware the risks associated with corporate partnerships in the light of a report that says companies are approaching them with "a more sophisticated commercial focus".
It says that many companies used to give cash to improve their marketing and brand images. But now they were more likely to give charity partners free expertise or facilities, or allow their staff to volunteer as part of a more strategic approach that they hope will help them to develop relationships with government and suppliers and attract more ethically-minded staff.
The report says corporate partnerships still provide many opportunities for charities but they need to think carefully before getting involved.
Bob Thust, head of corporate responsibility at Deloitte, stressed the importance of agreeing shared objectives early on. "If the corporate is interested only in PR or if the charity is focused only on what it can take out of the partner organisation, they don’t leverage the full value," he said.
"There ought to be a much more in-depth discussion at the start to really understand what the reasons for getting involved are."
Heather Hancock, managing partner for talent and brand at Deloitte, said: "Increasingly, corporate responsibility programmes involve a more sophisticated commercial focus where companies seek to open up new markets, attract the best staff, acquire new customers and develop strategic relationships."
Dax Lovegrove, head of business and industry at WWF-UK, which has a number of corporate partners, told Third Sector that NGOs should draw up business engagement policies and consider setting up internal groups to discuss partnership opportunities.
"Every NGO needs to be very robust in its business engagement practices," said Lovegrove.
"At WWF we have a very clear policy about which businesses and under what conditions we will enter partnerships. We take this very seriously."
Some charities limit the extent to which they engage with private companies. Greenpeace UK does not accept any funding from business. Amnesty International UK’s policy is that no more than 10 per cent of its income can come from the corporate sector.
Andrew Caffery, transparency and accountability manager at Amnesty, said: "Corporate relationships are a limited part of what we do because we want to maintain our independence and our ability to campaign on any issues.
"We take approaches from the corporate sector seriously because they can always cause considerable risk to our reputation."
The report is based on a study of partnerships in six business sectors and analyses of annual reports.