Helping Local and National Funders Do More Together

This blog post is from Emily Wexler of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, who will present a webinar on Thursday, Jan. 9, in partnership with JFN, on the promises and pitfalls of local and national funder collaborations. Emily will discuss the potential advantages of local-national partnerships and offer lessons that enhance their effectiveness.

Collaboration among grantmakers is seldom easy. This is especially the case when one partner has more resources and the other has more knowledge of the community. While these two assets – resources and knowledge – can be complementary, they can also create strife when higher value is placed on one over the other.

In a recent guide, GEO addressed a topic of significant interest to grantmakers seeking to work with others: partnerships between local and national funders.

There is enormous potential when these funders combine forces. With their deep understanding of community needs, resources and politics, local funders can draw on their networks and credibility to engage stakeholders who might otherwise distrust actors from outside the community. For their part, national funders have considerable resources as well as a vantage point that affords them a field wide perspective on complex problems. With their access to the national stage, they can also raise the profile of work on the ground. By partnering, local and national grantmakers can nurture more effective and sustainable programs and contribute to more profound changes for communities.

The success of a partnership is not just a matter of the right opportunity coming along. Instead, it requires a heightened level of self-awareness and care. Our conversations with grantmakers suggested a few recommendations for potential partners.

For national funders:

  • Come to learn first and act second by seeking out the local perspective and engaging in shared analysis of the problems and resources in a community. Then, move beyond asking for input and actually engage local funders in project design so that it is truly a joint effort.
  • Recognize that partnerships take time and work to sustain them by covering the costs of staff time and meetings for partners.
  • Introduce local partners to other funders as a way to marshal more resources and advance work happening at the local level.

For local funders:

  • Recognize and express your knowledge of the community. In other words, impart your wisdom!
  • Be a voice for the needs and perspectives of your community because even if you may find it difficult to speak up when interacting with powerful national funders, the challenge for nonprofits is even greater.

For both local and national funders:

  • Take the time to build strong relationships before entering or expanding a partnership through pilot projects.
  • Be clear about your goals, interests and work styles before you start a partnership to ensure compatibility.
  • Recognize the inevitability of change and engage in discussions about how to plan for the future and sustain work after a national funder departs.

Giving up control and collaborating with other funders can run counter to traditional grantmaking practice. But this change in mindset can ensure a win-win result, in the form of more effective support for the issues we all care about.