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Influence, Credibility, Effectiveness Measured in New Poll

By Patrick Sullivan - February 18, 2014

World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy are rated as the most trusted nonprofit partners for corporations, according to a new report. GreenBiz Group in Oakland, Calif., evaluated 30 nonprofits on the basis of influence, credibility and effectiveness.

“Companies have long been rated, ranked and reviewed by a wide range of NGOs,” wrote John Davies, vice president and senior analyst of GreenBiz, and author of the 2014 GreenBiz NGO Report. “We decided to turn the tables and ask corporate leaders who form the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel to rate the NGOs.”

The report is based on a survey sent to the 3,200 panel members. The response rate was 7 percent, or 233 panelists. Three-quarters of the respondents represented companies worth at least $1 billion. The report grouped nonprofits into one of four categories: Trusted Partners, Useful Resources, Brand-Challenged and The Uninvited.

WWF, EDF and TNC were the only three entries in the top group, Trusted Partners. “All three of these organizations are engaged in very public, solutions-oriented partnerships with major corporations,” wrote Davies. “They seek to leverage the scale of their corporate partners to make a significant impact on issues important to their organization.”

“The Greenbiz 2014 NGO report underlines the work that WWF and others have been doing to influence business practices around the globe for the benefit of the environment – and business,” said Sara Gilbertson, director of business and industry for the Washington, D.C.-based WWF. “WWF works with our counterparts in business to set high environmental goals, develop strategies to meet those goals, and measure and track both business benefits to partners and conservation impacts for the world.”

One step below Trusted Partners is Useful Resources. These nonprofits are “highly credible organizations best known for creating helpful frameworks and services for corporate partners,” according to the report. Small, local organizations topped this list, with 51 percent of respondents reporting that their companies work or have worked with these types of organizations.

Brand-Challenged organizations scored highly in the metrics of effectiveness and credibility, but poorly in influence. About one-third of respondents said their companies had no interaction with Trust for Public Lands (35 percent), Union of Concerned Scientists (34 percent) or the National Audubon Society (32 percent). The organizations “provide sound and mostly scientifically based resources,” according to the report, but name recognition is low.

The last category, The Uninvited, was reserved for nonprofits that either scored low on the three metrics, or “have chosen to focus primarily on name-and-shame actions rather than on developing working partnerships with companies,” wrote Davies. Nonprofits in this class include Earthjustice, Earth First and the Rainforest Action Network.

“The top three groups didn’t surprise us,” said GreenBiz Executive Editor Joel Makower. “We were surprised that Greenpeace was rated so highly (in the Useful Resources category). We’ve seen so many companies that have been targets publically disdain those efforts but privately applaud the light that shines on their companies’ sustainability practices.”

Beyond evaluating nonprofits, the report also looked at companies’ motivations for engaging with NGOs, as well as their experience with activist campaigns. The top motivation for respondents’ companies was good corporate citizenship, followed by obtaining subject matter expertise and gaining credibility. The number one priority was climate change. Community and engagement, and renewable energy and energy efficiency rounded out the top three priorities.

Just over half, or 52 percent of respondents, said a campaigning NGO has targeted their companies within the last five years. Some 42 percent viewed those campaigns as neither positive nor negative, and 20 percent said the campaigns were constructive, pushing their corporations to adapt new sustainability initiatives.

“Sustainability execs in big companies tend to be armies of one or four or seven inside a multibillion-dollar enterprise with no resources and no authority but huge mandates,” said Makower. “Many are pushing the proverbial rock up the proverbial hill, so when they get outside pressure saying you must do this, it gives the executives the opportunity to say I told you so. It can accelerate things slow in development or put something new on the radar.”

The full report is here:  http://info.greenbiz.com/rs/greenbizgroup/images/greenbiz-ngo-report.pdf

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