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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 Role
Donors 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 and the long view
Donors 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 learning

Investors 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 funding
As 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 partnerships
Effective 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 practice
Investors 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 Partnering
These 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: partnershiptraining@jsdaw.com

Diversity in Partnerships Is Uncomfortable – And That’s Good!

By Jocelyne Daw

In the coming years the community landscape will look dramatically different. Growing demands on resources and increasingly complexity of issues will require bridging traditional and untraditional boundaries to create powerful partnerships for social change. As a result, diversity will be inevitable. As different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives get blended, cognitive diversity will increase. Cognitive diversity is defined as the differences in our thought and problem-solving processes. This diversity drives innovation and is critical to better serve the community. So, how do you make sure your partnerships embrace diversity?  (more…)

Social Purpose Marketing for Behaviour Change

By Rachel Adrian

Recent years have seen a huge increase in companies getting involved in social purpose marketing. Rather than solely throwing money at a cause, companies are taking a stand and educating the public about underlying social issues. Advocacy and educational campaigns add authenticity and a personal connection to community investment initiatives. Social purpose marketing isn’t just about doing good for the community, it has also been shown to have unique business benefits. (more…)

Purpose: Maximizing Millennial Engagement

By Rachel Adrian

Today there are more millennials in the workplace than another demographic group. This generation has grown up in a very different reality than those of the past and it is critical that businesses go beyond the usual approaches to engage them. How can they be engaged to maximize their potential? (more…)

Encouraging Pro-Social Behaviour in the Workplace

thumbnailPro-social behaviours are actions that directly or indirectly benefit a person or society. Many companies have started to encourage pro-social behaviours as part of their community and people engagement programs. This means enabling employees to donate through the workplace, incentivizing people to bike to work, compost in the office or organizing company wide volunteer days, companies are definitely seeing a return on this investment. Employees are happier, more engaged and proud – both of their own accomplishments as well as the support of their company. (more…)

Emerging Ways of Giving

By Rachel Adrian

donationsAs we get ready to celebrate Philanthropy Day, it is interesting to reflect on how giving has changed in recent years. In the past, the vast majority of donations were religious in nature and now, this number is much lower. People today like to connect with the charities they donate to and know the impact they are making on their chosen cause. They want to be part of a movement that is really affecting change. In this blog, we are highlighting some creative new ways for people to engage with charity. (more…)

Growing the Purposeful Workforce

By Rachel Adrian

img656723There are two types of employees in today’s workforce, those who come to work in order to get a paycheck, and those who believe their work can have a greater impact. Recently we have seen an increase in purpose driven employees as millennials enter the workforce and baby boomers look for a higher meaning in their day to day work.

Millennials in particular are well-known for being more purpose driven than any other generation. They have grown up recycling and volunteering amidst a host of emerging social problems and purpose has been infused into their daily lives from the very beginning. Millennials are an excellent starting point in growing purpose at work. However, it is crucial that other generations are not excluded from the movement. (more…)

Engaging Employees: ‘Employee’ Centered Design

Employee_EngagementEncouraging engagement among employees is an age old problem that is not getting any easier. More and more companies are implementing employee engagement programs, but the majority difficulty with low participation rates. So what makes the difference between an engaging, exciting program and the lackluster ones that we see all too often? In this blog, we are taking a human centered design (HCD) approach to engaging employees and making the most out of your programs. (more…)

Millennials And the Future of Community Activism

By Jocelyne Daw

Because of the huge societal challenges we face, Millennials understand that we have to do more than just “fill the gaps” with donations. Millennials are driving a realignment of roles, responsibilities and resources across the sectors. They believe new approaches to address intractable community issues are needed. So what does this mean? Last week we featured Millennials and why their involvement in community needs to be approached differently than other generations. This week we look at five standout millennial attitudes that will drive social change and reshape community activism. (more…)

Millennials & Community

By Rachel Adrian

Millennials are an emerging, and very important demographic. One aspect that hasn’t gotten much attention is the different ways that millennials view causes and involvement in community. In order to get millennials engaged and involved in community work, we need to approach them differently than other generations. So what does this look like? (more…)