Shifting the Funder's Partnership Paradigm


Donors increasingly play a critical role in funding cross-sector collaborations.  In fact, many require “partnerships” for funding to be provided. They rightly belief partnerships can be innovative, far reaching, scalable and sustainable. But donors often struggle to appreciate the challenges and hard work involved in true partnerships.   And while their intentions are genuine, practice suggests funder driven partnerships have often stifled rather than optimized multi-stakeholder collaborations. How can donors shift their support to help partnerships achieve ambitious and transformational goals?Donor’s Central RoleDonors have a central and critical role in “making or breaking” partnerships.   But few have been involved in genuine partnerships. As a result, they underestimate partnership power dynamics; trust issues; partner disengagement; and the fear of failure. Effective partnerships between stakeholders with different missions, interests, cultures and even vocabularies can be difficult to achieve. It requires empathy; collective leadership; a collaborative mindset and a number of partnering skills, tools and processes.If investor shift their mindsets and focus on supporting partnering they can advance effective partnering and the opportunities that it can bring to everyone. Here are five key roles donors can play to drive innovative and transformational partnerships:1. Promote partnering andthe long viewDonors can use partnering as a delivery mechanism and a way to add value. They must not force partnerships– “we’ll give you the money if you find a partner.”  Partners must come together based on a shared commitment to their partner and to achieve complimentary and individual objectives.  There must be alignment and a true commitment in effective partnering.Donors must also promote and support the need for the long view.  Patience and commitment are required because true partnerships take time. Recently, I supported a review of JUMP completing five years in a partnership to advance early Math literacy- Math Minds.  The partners realized that their first year had in fact being about “getting to know each other”.  If the funders had been pushing for immediate results, a second year of funding might not have been likely.2. Convene partners for action and learningInvestors have broad community and funder networks. They can build partnering action by bringing together their networks to facilitate conversations and networking– including the usual and the unusual suspects.  They can also use their networks to facilitate the sharing of their knowledge about the partnering process.  Building out case studies and support presentations will permit learning from one another. 3. Catalyze partnerships through brokering and fundingAs an extension of convening, funders can help to broker new partnerships.  They can help partners as “brokers”, coaches and mentors. Funding partnership-generated projects is also a key role in building partnerships.4. Build capacity for partnering and evaluating partnershipsEffective partnering takes new skills and requires a different form of leadership.  This will require an investment in developing partnering capacity and supporting partnering processes such as meetings, training, and other elements of partnering that are not required when an organization works on its own.  The most effective training often comes from evaluating a partnership, its learnings and the value add. Funders need to support evaluations that look at what works, how and why partnering adds value and supports innovation and transformation.  This will be critical to building up evidence of the fundamental role partnering can play.5. Engage as “true” partners and model high standards in partnering practiceInvestors can play a key role by engaging as genuine partners and modelling high standards in the partnering process.  This includes building a genuine curiosity and openness for all voices (even those without perceived power) to be heard. Encouraging individual and mutual interests to be explored and validated and ensuring equity and respect are built, where little may have existed before.  Above all, seeding courage to make a difference on issues that are important to those involved.Workshop for Funders on Effective PartneringThese are exciting times to be doing things between funders and the community differently– with determination, persistence and courage funders can be drivers and catalysts for robust, effective partnerships.The Partnership Brokers Association is a non-profit, social business that is dedicated to understanding and improving the partnering process to ensure that every partnership optimizes its potential and reaches its goal.  We work with all sectors: business, governments, international agencies, academia and civil society and have a good track record for being nimble and responsive in the way we work.It is our view that donors have a central and critical part to play in ‘making or breaking’ the partnership paradigm and that an opportunity to explore this as a sector could be of real value – both to donors and to the partnerships they support.  From our work over many years with a number of donors in many parts of the world, we believe that many would value the opportunity to come together to explore these challenges with their peers.To this end, and in response to expressed interest, we have created a one-day workshop that we are offering globally.  In fact, the first workshop was held in Canada with funders from the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers Network. For more information about hosting a one-day workshop for funders please contact me, an authorized trainer and associate at: