Benchmark 5

Hold your third-party partners to account



Benchmark 5: “Hold your third-party partners to account” requires an appreciation for each other’s strengths, alongside checking in regularly on jointly set targets.

Benchmark 5 Components:

  1. Well-defined partnership parameters
  2. Set ambitious, but achievable joint targets
  3. Continued engagement & analysis against targets


1. Well-defined partnership parameters

According to Deloitte, companies are progressively turning to partnerships with non-profits, social enterprises and the public sector in order to efficiently achieve social impact, share risk and access new skills and resources.


It’s therefore key to establish clear framework for engagement upfront (e.g. timing, establish clear roles and responsibilities, dispute resolution, etc. such as this one recommended by Deloitte‘s John Mennel) to avoid wasted resources and volunteer programmes that are misaligned with corporate strategy.


Relationships that are long-term and built on a realistic understanding of the true strengths on both sides have a greater chance of being successful and, importantly, sustainable, according to McKinsey’s research on “Smart Partnering”., for example, have various parameters or assessing social enterprises / non-profits as partners. They only work with those that have a unique, innovative idea within a big market, who is financially sustainable, and where there is space Google to actively contribute.


Larger companies should be mindful to help remove the barriers faced by their smaller partners. For example,partners would be able to lean on the full firepower of a Google (whether it’s their employees for mentoring, training, or donating products such as G Suite) or AT&T (as a pilot customer, for business advice and mentoring).


2. Set ambitious, but achievable joint targets

Whilst it’s inspiring to set ambitious targets with new partners, companies should ensure that their local partners (often small charities or social enterprises) have the knowledge, skills and resources to actually achieve them.


In a few cases, companies mentioned accidently overwhelming their non-profit partners as they grew in size. Be mindful of this. Ensure you closely align your offering with actual needs of the social sector, and try to help such partners absorb your volunteering support in a way that does not create additional overhead and costs.


3. Continued engagement & analysis against targets

Deciding on the right KPIs and means of impact measurement should be done upfront, for example Accenture set a project charter at the beginning.


This seemed particularly important to Established companies and those who engage in public sustainability / CSR reporting as strong measurement of impact can help sustain momentum and justify continued investment (of time & money) to stakeholders.


Larger corporates (with larger amounts of company resources to donate) can often be quite strict when choosing local partners. Gap Inc., who work with the Prince’s Trust for their volunteering efforts in the UK, said they like to challenge their partners to ensure commitment over the long-term, but are sure not to subject them to unduly restrictive due diligence processes.

What each tier does well

Established Company


Established companies often had very well-defined partnership parameters (scoring 4/5 on avg), with a few laying this out on their website or in other public materials. This may explain why, compared to other tiers, they found continued engagement of partners and analysis against such targets easier.


Did tech help?
For this tier, tech was only moderately correlated to high performance (0.45 at 98% CI), with only one or two companies utiliser automated trackers for partner performance (e.g. to track how many beneficiaries were engaged in the programme in real-time).



Whilst it wasn’t yet a wide-spread practice, High-Growth companies were slowly moving from simply working with partners physically closest to them towards setting more well-defined partnership parameters upfront (scoring 2.75/5 on avg).


Did tech help?
Tech was not particularly applicable in this instance, although one company drew upon their internal employee survey data as a means for determining who to work with.



SME performance in this benchmark was relatively weak (an avg of 1.9/5 compared to Established company’s 3.8/5), with no noticeable strength areas. This tier were likely still hasing out volunteer stategy and as such had not developed the detail on the exact type of partners they should be working with as yet.


Did tech help?
Whilst tech was not used much for this benchmark by this tier, it was strongly correlated to high performance in continued analysis & engagement of partners (e.g. an automated dashboard with real-time performance of partners).

Filling the gaps

Toggle through each tier below to explore the weakest areas of performance against this benchmark:


How tech might help

Overall, there was a strong correlation between use of tech and high performance on this benchmark across all tiers (0.71 at 99% CI). It seemed that companies could learn from those drawing upon real-time insights from their third-party partners (or could encourage such partners to embrace technology to capture such information in the future). 


NFL, for example, encourage their partners to use technology for measurement and are sure to conduct pilot studies before wider launches across the company.

Case Studies:

Tech as an enabler

NFL Logo

NFL partnered with EVERFI and United Way to design and implement Character Playbook, a digital education programme to teach students how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships throughout their time inside and outside of American football.

Key to success of the initiative, which has now grown to 20 states (and counting!), was having an awareness of the strengths each party brought to the table and setting well-defined partnership parameters upfront. NFL could bring their expertise of character building within the sports arena, EVERFI with their virtual learning expertise, and United Way could draw upon their huge network of schools and students.

The partners also custom build technology to measure outcomes of the partnership, such as engagement, outreach and student improvement across a variety of measures.

Education-specific best practice

Pearson Logo

Pearson partnered with Microsoft Research Asia and WeChat (a popular Chinese social media app) to launch Longman English+, an English language learning app.

Each party to the partnership was responsible for their own unique contribution, Pearson with its training content, Microsoft’s AI technology and WeChat’s scalable chat app, allowing Chinese learners from a wider range of backgrounds to obtain access to such education content.


AMD Logo

AMD, a multinational organisation that develops computer processors and related technologies, are a great example of setting ambitious, but achievable joint targets with partners.

In partnering with zSpace, a company using Virtual Reality to tackle boredom in school STEM subject classes, AMD were able to support the philanthropic efforts of both companies, whilst utilising the experience to improve the design of one of their own products.

Next: Read onwards to Benchmark 6 >>

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