Lessons in Funder Collaboration: What the Packard Foundation Has Learned about Working with Other Funders

by Judy Huang; Willa Seldon

Jul 9, 2014

As the Foundation approached its 50th anniversary this year, it asked The Bridgespan Group to assist in taking stock of what Packard can learn from its many collaborations. When it comes to the structure of collaborations, Bridgespan has identified five main models: knowledge exchange, coordination of funding, coinvesting in an existing entity, creating a new entity, and funding the funder. As with all taxonomies, these five categories are meant to serve as signposts along a continuum. Each collaboration differs in a variety of ways, whether it is the flow of funds, decision making, expectations and roles of funding partners, or legal structure. Bridgespan focused on Packard's collaborations that require alignment and more intensive coordination by program staff. Six case studies provide an in-depth look inside examples of all four types of collaboration that venture beyond exchanging knowledge.

  • Collaborations are time-intensive, often requiring external research and a clear process for discussion - that's why it's important to be clear about goals
  • Be clear about how the collaboration fits with, or is an exception to, your foundation's strategy
  • Design decision making and collaboration structure to match funders' needs, interests and expertise
  • Partnership structures should be adaptable and flexible
  • Design exit strategies upfront
  • Use evaluations to adapt and improve
  • Balance ambition with realism
  • Build strong relationships with your partners and be clear about the roles of each partner
  • Collaborations done poorly can drain time, money and energy - Before joining a collaboration, funders should answer 4 key questions: What is our goal? Do we need to collaborate to succeed? What are we willing to invest in time and money? How do we achieve results?
  • Weigh the costs and benefits of the collaboration
  • Use a taxonomy to apply rigor to decision making regarding the collaboration's structure
  • Establish milestones
  • Engage your board in key discussions about collaboration when its central to your foundation's work
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