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How to Choose the Right CSR Partner? The internal lead for CSR initiatives must be passionate about his/her role, so that he/she may reflect the true intent of the organisation.

By Anuja Bansal

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Choosing the right CSR partner for your company can be an overwhelming task for those unfamiliar with it. While it does present an opportunity to positively strengthen your brand, but to get the most out of your partnership, it is important to associate with the right cause and the right partner.

Drawing experience from our presence in India, for over 50 years, we have compiled some of the key things that you should consider while choosing your CSR partner.

Choose the Right Cause (Thematic Alignment)

One of the first things on your checklist, when choosing a CSR partner is identifying the cause or theme that you will like to promote, and ensuring that the theme is aligned to the activities, as suggested in Schedule VII, of the Companies Act 2013. It is also important that the programmes or themes that you choose, be aligned to your organisation's business values and its mission statement, and not just be limited to your personal passion. This will help you dovetail the cause to your organisation, thereby, strengthening your overall image. Having trouble identifying the right cause? Consider conducting a needs assessment through a baseline survey report, which will help you establish the need for that activity. You may also consider doing something for the communities and neighbourhoods associated with you, or in your vicinity. For instance, if your organisation has a factory or a plant, with employees from vulnerable communities (e.g. labourers, etc), working for you, you may want to consider improving their lives by providing alternate livelihood programmes for dependents, or providing primary health care facilities, or quality education for their children. Such an act will motivate them to positively advocate for your organisation, while strengthening your goodwill.

Cross-Check the Credentials of the Ngo

Another important aspect is assessing the credentials of your partner NGO. It is critical to ensure that you are engaging with a credible organisation. Some of the key things that you should assess include, whether the activity being carried out by them is permissible under the CSR Act, does the NGO have a registration certificate, do they offer income tax exemptions, do they have audited financial statements, do they have enough experience to handle the proposed projects, are they on panel with any national CSR hub, are they eligible to carry out the proposed CSR activities, or do they have any achievements or awards to their credit. Also, look for their governance aspects, like their board composition, how active is the board, etc. Organisations with good governance have proven to display better performance and accountability in projects. Evaluating your partner on these basic requirements in the initial stage will help you avoid any surprise elements post engagement. In addition to these, if the organisation has any awards or certifications to their credit, that will be the icing on the cake.

Look for Innovators

Most corporates and even SMEs are innovating at their own workplace, and therefore, look for off-beat community projects, which sets them apart from other organisations investing in CSR. Remember, it's not just about spending the 2% of your profits. But spending it the right way can ensure that your intent towards fulfilling your social responsibility gets noticed. If your NGO partner is an innovator, either in its approach or solutions, it will inevitably give you an edge. Similarly, if your NGO partner has innovative solutions or approaches to help India achieve its Sustainability Development Goals in the key areas of education, skills, health, environment, etc, bringing their efforts to the spotlight, towards building a new India, will also bring goodwill to the organisation.

Assess Cost Implications

Having a clear plan on how much you will be able to invest, is important. Make sure that your estimated budget is a value that you can sustain. Here, do note that a sustainable and scalable impact can only be delivered over a long term. Hence, it is important to consider at least a 3-5 year partnership to bring about lasting changes. Every corporate would want to reach the maximum number of beneficiaries, within their budgets. However, some programmes can have higher costs, compared to others. Therefore, defining your budgets at the onset of the engagement will help you assess whether you should opt for a smaller project, or invest in a full-fledged campaign, etc. When assessing the cost implication, you should clearly understand and outline the scope of work during the span of the project, the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, along with the expected outcomes.

Assess the Impact of the Project

When we talk of expected outcomes, impact assessment has an important role to play. It is important to be able to assess the impact, based on factors including the number of target beneficiaries that the project will reach, what kind of intervention will take place, what will be the timeline, etc. When we talk of beneficiaries, there may be certain corporates that would only want to work with the girl child, or the elderly, or only sponsor higher education. So based on your thematic alignment, you must seek a well-defined plan from your partner organisation for executing the project. The chosen NGO should have proper measurement and evaluation metrics in place, which are tracked and reported in proper time cycles, as per the defined deliverables, milestones and outcomes.

Analyse Risks

When we talk of risk analysis and mitigation, a corporate must ensure that the potential NGO partner should not have had any negative publicity in the past, especially when it comes to the work that it does. Once again, ensure that your partner organisation has proper governance aspects in place, along with well-recognized ethical standards and accountability practices like anti-corruption policies, anti-bribery policies, etc. In addition to these, there should be transparency in dealing and the organisation must maintain their financial books on a regular and timely basis. You must look at associating with an organisation that has a clean background, with all necessary documentation, paperwork and processes in place so that when they engage, the process becomes seamless.

Engage your Employees through Volunteering Opportunities

Do look for programmes and projects, wherein your employees or volunteers could themselves engage and feel like a part of the engagement. As a matter of fact, many corporates mandate their new joinees to volunteer in NGOs so that they can be sensitized to various social issues. After all the employees are true ambassadors of an organisation. If they are able to see the value of what they're doing, they will be the first to advocate about your organisation. For this, you must ensure that your internal lead for CSR initiatives must be passionate about his/her role, so that he/she may reflect the true intent of the organisation.

Hopefully, the above tips will help you in implementing your CSR project, seamlessly. Do note that implementing a CSR campaign is an exciting endeavour, not just for you but for your potential beneficiaries too, who look forward to your support.

Leverage Branding

Social causes provide a great foundation to base marketing and branding campaigns. Cause-related marketing can further the objectives of both, the corporate and the NGO, in terms of branding, spreading social messages and even helping the NGO raise funds. But to make cause-related marketing a success, planning is extremely important, so that your efforts reflect your organisation's intent. If your marketing strategy can create a real-world connect with your cause, by showcasing why the cause is important to your brand, and how your brand is in the best position to support the cause, it will validate your brand's commitment to the cause and could easily be echoed on social media and other channels, for maximum impact.

(Authored by Ms Anuja Bansal, Secretary General, SOS Children's Villages of India)


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