Partnering with the private sector

This tool is part of our How to Strengthen Collaboration toolkit for civil society organisations.

The guidance can be used in parallel with our partnering policy tool. It can be used as part of research and preparation for establishing private sector partnerships and then initially how to get the best out of these partnerships.

Framing the opportunities of partnering with profit-making entities

  • Significant market opportunities can be available for companies who choose to take new approaches to how their businesses operate in new and emerging markets; for example, reaching new markets and engaging with new producer and consumer groups in developing economies can be essential to remaining competitive
  • Not-for-profit organisations seeking to partner with the private sector can capitalise on business’ search for new market opportunities by designing and implementing programmes that bring both business and social gains
  • Examples of this include programmes which help companies responsibly generate efficiencies in supply chains, or else create dignified employment opportunities for underserved population groups; this can, and should, include how the private sector can play more of a role enabling people with disabilities to economically thrive and operate within society equally with others

What non-profits bring to the table

  • Technical skills, resources and relationships to tackle the social, economic and environmental issues that impact on business activities
  • The ability to co-create initiatives with the private sector, from research and design phases to implementing pragmatic, outcome-based solutions to challenges on the ground
  • Able to work across multiple industry groups, with every partnership tailored to individual circumstances and needs
  • Strong relationships with their partners’ in-house teams, as well as with peers in the CSO community, in order to deliver optimal solutions.

Top tips

  • Ensure clearly defined roles and responsibilities and establish mutual trust and understanding between partners
  • Create spaces for learning and evaluation
  • Consider how the private sector and public sector can come together in support of social purpose outcomes

Clearly communicate your value-add

  • Can you help them secure future supplies in a world where there is much greater competition for resources?
  • Can you help them meet the needs of consumers in rapidly growing, developing markets?
  • Can you help them reduce costs by improving resource usage and reducing waste?
  • Can you help them improve credibility with the growing number of consumers who expect companies to behave responsibly?
  • Can you help them motivate their staff, who expect employers to meet their responsibilities to a wider society?

Making the first connection

Wherever possible, try to find a personal introduction. These may be professional or through friends, but the personal connection (‘so-and-so suggested you may be interested in…’) creates some immediate social capital and helps to open the door.

If this is not possible, you will need to research the best contact for you to talk with. Many companies have specific Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Public Affairs departments.

Understand the company

Before your meeting you need to do your homework to understand the company better. A great deal of information can be gleaned from web research, and from companies’ CSR reports.

  • What does the company do and where does it operate? What sort of reputation do they have?
  • Who are its major clients and other stakeholders? Does it have operations geographically relevant to your programme?
  • What are its CSR policies and main areas of focus?
  • What sort of partnerships and philanthropy is the company involved in?
  • Does the company have a separate foundation?

Prepare your material

You should have as much clarity in advance over how you will present your programme and the opportunity or, preferably, range of opportunities. Remember that the printed material you provide to your contact is what they will pass around the company and hence, it must try to make as good an impression as you in person.

Your material might include:

  • Introduction to your organisation
  • The overall vision, context and need for your programme
  • The beneficiaries of your programme including some sense of scale / numbers and real, personal stories
  • Your activities and outcomes or results of your programme’s activities
  • What makes your programme different – what is its ‘unique selling point’?
  • Testimonials from your stakeholders to demonstrate track record and reliability
  • Information on existing partnerships with businesses and the benefits they are getting from them (preferably in their own words)
  • The future for your programme, including plans for expansion
  • Opportunities for new partnerships

During your meeting

  • Be professional (which includes arriving on time!)
  • Approach it as a two-way conversation – finding out about the company, as well as talking about your programme – not as a one-way sales pitch. Do not assume you know what the company wants/needs
  • Ask sensible questions to understand the company better and demonstrate you have made an effort to research them (e.g. ‘what did you gain most out of the xxx project you were involved in?’
  • Avoid being apologetic or defensive – you are offering an opportunity, not begging;
  • Highlight the positive benefits of your project, rather than the (often negative) situation that the project is addressing
  • Do not try to guilt trip someone into supporting you!
  • Listen to what the company is saying – they will have their own thoughts and suggestions
  • Use interest-based negotiation techniques to understand the company’s interests and be flexible yourself to widen the scope for possible solutions

Leaving the meeting

  • Ensure you have clear next steps (e.g. a visit, a further meeting, coming back in a year) and leave material with them
  • Always close on a positive note whatever the result; things could change further down the line and you may be back or the individual may change companies
  • Whatever their answer, try to expand your network by asking for any suggestions of people / companies they think might be interested; always send a thank you email detailing next steps if appropriate


This resource was developed by GNDR and The Partnering Initiative as part of the Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive Development project.

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