Are you big on dreams but small on staff? Do you regularly identify grantee skill gaps you wish you could address? Do you want to build long-term capacity in the field for a legacy of impact?
Partnerships are a great tool for helping you leverage established expertise (reaching a particular region, population or issue area), outsource labor intensive tasks, and develop long-term capacity.
What are Partnerships?
In the Indie Philanthropy context, Partnerships means you are collaborating with other organizations to make grants or support other philanthropic activities. This is kind of a “kitchen sink” method, covering a variety of approaches, including:
Funding another philanthropy entity that will:
- regrant your money in an area in which they have expertise (see also Flow Funding);
- use the money to provide technical assistance to your grantees; or
- manage your grantmaking dockets through a donor-advised fund.
Collaborating with other funders to:
- create joint funding strategies and docket;
- educate and inspire each other to fund something specific (see also Giving Communities); or
- pool money for a specific shared mission (see also Giving Circles).
Offering long-term, sustained funding and other support to a specific set of organizations that carry out part of your mission (seen as “long-term partners” rather than “grantees”).
Your money may go to a group that is already doing what you want to support, or you may find an organization with the right expertise and connections that will co-create a new initiative together with you.
Why are Partnerships important?
Partnerships are a critical part of effective funding. They can:
- Expand your capacity. Partnering with an intermediary expands your capacity–it’s like outsourcing a program officer role! You can reach smaller groups, international groups, and hard to find groups without needing to add staff.
- Build sustained community infrastructure. Often communities have amazing organizations, processes and leaders on the ground already. When you partner and build up established groups over time, you save time because you aren’t duplicating their efforts, and you strengthen the community’s infrastructure for the long-term.
- Tap talent within the communities you support. When you are not part of the community you want to fund, partnering helps you better channel the wisdom of those who are. By tapping into community talent, you can more easily provide community appropriate grants and magnify your impact.
- Build community. By joining forces you build community, enhance support systems and make grantmaking more fun and meaningful.
What are the limitations and challenges of Partnerships?
Partnerships can also pose challenges. This approach can:
- Lead to unmet expectations. Whenever you hand over control, the outcome may be different from what you expected. Clarify goals and underlying values upfront, and create strong channels of communication. At the same time, give your partners room to innovate and be open to the possibility that what emerges will be better than what you could have created alone.
- Be tripped up by power dynamics. Whoever is the source of the money often has the loudest voice. Your innocent suggestion may sound to your partner like a non-negotiable request. To reduce power imbalances, talk about these dynamics upfront and clarify roles and accountabilities.
- Lead to stagnation. Longer-term partnerships can reduce your flexibility, and keep you from changing course as new opportunities arise. When you are concerned about losing other windows of opportunity, remember that instead of chasing the flavor of the month, you are investing for a legacy of long-term impact.
- Increase money spent on administration. Sometimes it’s way more efficient and cost-effective to utilize intermediaries for re-granting and other programmatic support, but it’s important to evaluate the costs and benefits to ensure you’re utilizing resources wisely.
How can I start a Partnership?
You don’t have to do it alone! Chances are, whatever you’re interested in accomplishing through your funding, there is an organization already out there that can help you.
- Spend some time researching which organizations are doing effective work in your area of interest. Attend conferences or gatherings. Join a donor network or giving community. Surf the web. And don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to speak with leaders that peak your interest to explore possibilities for collaboration and partnership.
- If you are considering a long-term partnership strategy with some of your grantees, consider convening a meeting to develop a comprehensive strategy together.
Read stories of other funders who have mastered this method
- Indigenizing Grantmaking: Partnering to Support Effective Native-led Change
by: Common Counsel Foundation
- Supporting Movement Infrastructure
- Partnership: Building a movement from the ground up
by: The Community Midwifery Fund housed at The Groundswell Fund
- “Keep Your Coins, I Want Change”: Grantmaking grounded in Partnerships of Solidarity
by: Grassroots International
- Becoming an Authentic Partner for Change
by: International Development Exchange (IDEX)(now Thousand Currents)