Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
BB: I know you have many missions, but what would you see as the primary focus of what you’re trying to have the foundation accomplish now?
TP: It is structural changes. Let me just focus on that aspect of our work that we do locally with an understanding that we do an equal amount of grantmaking work regionally, nationally and internationally. In philanthropy you can make a choice of investing your money, distributing some of your grant money to direct immediate needs, it’s totally a good purpose; a soup kitchen, a medical clinic, a respite home for an abused woman and her family, all of those are very immediate, poignant, human needs that need some funding from philanthropy as well as from other sources, and we do a fair amount. But the strategic part of our grantmaking, the more deliberate, longer term, strategic part of the grantmaking is really to make structural change and that’s where we get into this whole issue of partnerships, collaborations, affiliations and confederations. Whatever is the right grouping to try to move our needle on the several metrics that we’ve set in each of the different areas; housing, poverty, education, health, and other topics.
BB: I would think that most people coming to you are looking for grants, they see you as a funding opportunity for them. Are you saying that you’re looking to delve into deeper issues that you’d like to address with them, such as capacity building or structural issues?
TP: In the earlier years it was a mix and we were as many foundations, many funders are, in a bit more of a reactive mode. The answer to that question, say if we backed up 8 or 9 years ago, was that it depends and is over a range. In the last several years we have tried to be clearer with potential applicants about the fact that we have deliberately designed our thinking and our strategies more to be purposeful around certain logic models or certain outcomes or certain impacts that we’re seeking, and we even publish on our website, for each of the main areas that we do funding. We publish that logic model and it takes it from left to right of initial ideas all the way to ultimate impact and outcomes. So we now are quite deliberate about that and if folks are not really at that place either in their interest or in their capacity or both, we say we’re probably not a good fit as a potential funder for you.
BB: Are you saying that there are new thinking models here that have been proven and if you’re really trying to build the sustainability of your organization you have to get away from some of the old ways? It’s not just coming to a foundation or corporation and asking for money but what value can you bring to them? Are you getting pushback on this approach?
TP: It was five or six years ago when we made this more deliberate shift to being explicit about the fact that we wanted to do strategic grantmaking. There was some pushback just because different nonprofits have different history and a different sense of confidence about their ability to do that type of work. And of course, all things equal, if you want to go just ask somebody for money and they give it to you pretty much with no springs attached or no particular metric imposed, then that’s the best money of all to a nonprofit group. But what we’ve experienced over the last few years is that it’s pretty contagious, in a good way, contagious optimism and sense of participating. We’ve put a lot of work into bringing like-minded, like-missioned organizations together for convenings and discussing some common challenges, common approaches, common metrics. We’ve found that the individual grantees like the feeling they are part of something larger and something more impactful. Also, being part of something that can be more clearly documented not only in terms of what lives or what communities are being changed but also in explaining to current or prospective donors why an investment to further this work would be a good investment.
Coming up, Part 2: Building collaborations
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