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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

An Update on Shared Value Around the World

So far, 2017 has been a year of stability and scaling for shared value. Shared value was introduced over six years ago as an innovative new approach  addressing social needs with a business model to achieve social and economic value.  While some of the initial excitement has faded, many companies have found success with this strategy and are reaping the benefits of more effective community-business relationships while creating new economic value. (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…)

The Future of Cause Marketing

Cause marketing has changed rapidly in recent years and these changes have the potential to impact their contribution to the nonprofit sector. With the rise of online shopping, and many retailers closing up physical stores, the popular point-of-sale requests are becoming less viable. Fortunately, even with all of these changes, there are still ways to get customers involved and create a successful campaigns that support organizations both in raising money and awareness.  How? (more…)

Experts Weigh in on the Future of Business Giving

By Joe Waters, Selfish Giving

Business giving is changing and nothing reflects this more than how they interact with charity. So how exactly is it changing and how can you ensure you’re prepared for the road ahead? To answer that question, Joe Waters from Selfish Giving asked 26 experts to share their insights into this rapidly changing landscape. Here’s what they had to say:

A Guide for Business: Engaging with the SDGs

By Rachel Adrian

The Sustainable Development Goals are a clear call for all sectors to get involved and momentum is building across all sectors.  The SDGs heralds a significant change from the earlier UN Millennium Goals. Today, Business is expected to be a critical partner in accomplishing the goals along side non-profits and government. So are they ready? What will their contribution look like? What will drive their involvement? (more…)

Partnerships at the Heart of the Sustainable Development Goals

By Rachel Adrian

The 17th Sustainable Development Goal stands out as different from all the others. While the other goals focus on tangible improvements to quality of life around the world, the 17th is the means, the “how” to accomplish the other goals. By highlighting partnerships as the 17th Sustainable Development Goal, and the United Nations has made a call to action for multi-stakeholder collaboration. (more…)

Sustainable Development Goals: Why Should You Care?

By Rachel Adrian

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed through the United Nations in September of 2015 as a means to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Each goal has specific targets lined out with an ultimate goal of completion by 2030. A year has already passed and the goals are gaining momentum. But what are they all about? Why should you care? What will be needed to reach the monumental targets set out for us all?


What is Shared Value & How Does it Help Me?

A good friend of ours, Phil Preston from The Collaborative Advantage recently published an excellent free e-book on the basics of shared value. It’s great for a quick refresher on the concept or to share with people unfamiliar with shared value. Follow the link at the bottom of this page to head over to his website and download your free copy. (more…)

2017 Trend: Innovation & How Canada Put Donald Trump on Ice

By Jocelyne Daw

Friday January 20th was the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Many greet the ceremony with concern about what his leadership will bring over the next four years. But the comments Bill Gates made after his meeting with Trump in late 2016 provide a ray of hope. Gates stated, “President-elect Donald Trump has an opportunity to establish American leadership through innovation.(more…)