Gaining Perspective: Lessons Learned from One Foundation's Exploratory Decade

Jan 10, 2011

In the period from 1998 to 2008, the Northwest Area Foundation made a big bet on an innovative approach to reducing poverty. Before that time, the Foundation awarded relatively short-term grants in a variety of program areas. In 1998, the mission was sharpened to a single purpose: to help communities reduce poverty. At the heart of the new strategy was a set of placebased, long-term commitments that were conceived as partnerships with entire communities. These fundamental changes were motivated by a desire to target our resources for greater impact and by a belief that, in an era of shrinking government, communities had to do for themselves what public systems had failed to do for them.

  • Setting clear expectations of success can be extremely beneficial
  • The nature of a funder-recipient relationship makes equal partnership challenging, if not impossible, to achieve; it is important to be realistic about the role each party can play.
  • Recognizing and acknowledging the inherent power imbalance, building a relationship first before setting funding expectations, and providing support beyond grantmaking dollars can all contribute to a more authentic form of partnership.
  • Set expectations together with your partners
  • Two-way communication with partner organizations about shared expectations shows colleagues that their input is valued and reinforces the notion that the partnership is authentic
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