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Partner Down

Partner DownIt seems collaboration is one of the most-discussed words in the field of philanthropy these days, right up there with transparency and administrative cost control.

But is forming a collaborative partnership for everyone? Even though I am a strong proponent of building collaborative efforts, I would argue that it is not.

I was having this discussion (over a cold beer) with my VP, Ellen Mowrer, and she told me this story:

We had the concept of collaborations go sour in our community. Last year, a fairly major grantmaker moved from funding individual organizations to only funding collaborations. Organizations had little warning that their traditional awards would not be renewed and many of them had to scramble, putting together forced or unnatural partnerships. Because of this new caveat, several small organizations lost funding entirely, and one organization, who provides much-needed services in our community, closed their doors completely this summer as result of the funding loss.”

And we all know this can happen. A grantmaker becomes preoccupied with “outcome measurements,” or “sustainability,” or “collaborations,” and that precludes funding certain organizations or issues simply because they aren’t embracing that particular strategy.

Collaborations formed simply as a response to a grantmaker’s request, rather than like-minded partner agencies coming together to benefit the community, are almost always a misstep.

Playing It by the Numbers

We learned, however, some very interesting facts from our recent State of GranseekingTM survey that shed a bit of light on collaborations. For example, 67 percent of respondents told us they had collaborated on a grant application, and 74 p;percent reported that their collaborative grant applications won an award. So clearly this is a trend that is well worth considering when applying for grant support.

We also asked respondents how they felt about organizational collaboration as an aid to grantseeking. Over half of respondents (61 percent) had a positive outlook, 23 percent had some reservations, and 16 percent had a negative outlook.

One of the respondents said, “Collaborations are beneficial if they are well-designed, practical, logical, and they maximize the resources and expertise of the partner agencies to benefit the target population and community.”

Another respondent said, “I think organizational collaboration is fast becoming the expected norm and is the future of grantmaking. Like the recent P3 grant that the Department of Education created to design paradigms of service to disconnected youth by combining current services offered by several different federal agencies. The same should be for grantseekers—bring in other entities to strengthen your project, and strengthen your community bonds and revenue sources via grants.”

But one respondent said, “I think it makes sense but it is of course, easier said than done. I worry that this sort of collaborative grantseeking might pose difficulties in making sure everyone is on the same page in terms of priorities and use of funds. On the other hand, I wouldn't want organizational pride or stubbornness to get in the way of making more and better change in the world.”

Let’s Take This Discussion to a New Level

The responses to the survey raised more questions, such as:

  • Do organizations require a certain level of annual budget and staff size to collaborate successfully on grant applications?
  • Are funders looking for organizational sustainability?
  • Does the annual budget size of the organizations involved influence grantmakers when it comes to collaborative efforts?
  • Does the age of the organization, and the organization’s partners, as proof of sustainability, influence grantmakers when it comes to collaborative efforts?

We’ve included questions on collaboration in the Fall 2016 State of Grantseeking Survey. Please take part and share your experience in grantseeking so we can continue to analyze this trend and provide you with some guidance as you consider forming collaborative partnerships.

Cynthia-Adams.pngThe preceding is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.
Topics: Fundraising Nonprofit partnerships