It’s little surprise nonprofits bring on corporate partners. Companies can bring with them deep pockets, considerable reach and important validation.

Corporates are key,” says Sharon O’Sullivan, global head of corporate partnerships at Global Citizen, a nonprofit focused on eliminating extreme poverty. This weekend, the organization will host Global Citizen Live, a live music concert taking place across six continents. “If the private sector is supporting your work, that creates change.”

It’s a two-way street. Nonprofits also help businesses to meet their goals. Nearly every major global company has stringent requirements to meet the environmental, social and governance expectations of investors, and nonprofit organizations offer one channel to fulfill those requirements. When Coca-Cola became a Global Citizen partner in 2020, for example, part of the purpose was to extend the company’s ESG goal of developing sustainable communities. A few years earlier, P&G partnered to focus on equity in women’s health.

Partnering with nonprofits focused on particular issues can translate into value for consumers, as well. Most Millennials and Gen Zers expect brands to align with them on values; partnering with the right nonprofit can demonstrate a commitment to those values. 

But just because a nonprofit may hold potential strategic advantage for a business doesn’t mean the nonprofit is waiting with open arms, however. 

“It’s a good thing to write a check for a cause,” notes O’Sullivan, but at Global Citizen, potential partners must first pass the organization’s “red lines test.”

Their test is clear: Companies must not work with oil and gas, tobacco or gambling entities, or engage in those businesses or practices themselves. They must undergo a review of their fair trade and employment practices, and a report is run to discover whether they are under sanction by the UN. Global Citizen’s policy team also makes sure a prospective corporate partner’s business meets environmental standards. They look at the CEO and board and ask, according to O’Sullivan, “Are they reputable and willing to stand up for sustainable goals? Have they publicly committed to ESG? We need the partners of Global Citizen to be true partners.”

Just 14 companies are “core” partners to Global Citizen, including Cisco, Coca-Cola, P&G and others, all of whom will be featured, alongside other event-specific sponsors at Global Citizen Live.

In a Signal Conversation last year, Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans talked about his organization’s need for corporate partners. 

“If we’re to successfully tackle these challenges, we need the power of large corporations and their employees,” he said. “Companies have significant reach. They have enormous economic capital. They also influence governments and consumers alike, and they can also shift consumer sentiment and respond to consumer sentiment. We’re finding that businesses are stepping up like never before.” And, hopefully, in a way that passes the test.