Like individual foundations, philanthropic collaborations vary widely in governance and financing structures, size, and type. Some partnerships create and fund an independent organization with its own staff. For others, funding, decision-making, and coordinating responsibilities can be driven by a convening organization, shared equally between funding partners, or tiered between partners at different levels of engagement.
Despite variations in structure, research indicates that all philanthropic collaborations face core management challenges: agreeing on goals, priorities, and desired roles; creating realistic timelines and milestones; enforcing accountability; fostering mutual trust and support; navigating internal power dynamics; establishing strong leadership and adequate resourcing; and generating buy-in from grantees and beneficiaries.
Yet, sufficient alignment to move forward is critical. In a reflection from ClimateWorks Foundation founder and CEO Hal Harvey, he said that a lack of alignment between “perceptions and expectations of staff, funders, and other stakeholders… led to inefficient use of resources… took staff time away from the core task… staff departures and the restructuring of CWF.”
Grantees can be impacted by the complexities of partnerships as well. In a recent Bridgespan study, a third of grantees felt an increased burden from working with a foundation partnership as compared to an individual funder.
What to do to avoid these pitfalls? Research on funder collaboratives identifies evaluative health checks as a key best practice. These assessments highlight where internal misalignment is undermining impact and bypasses power dynamics to collect candid stakeholder feedback that is critical to improvements.
Read the full article about stakeholder feedback by Alina Tomeh at The Center For Effective Philanthropy.