Engaging in strategic grantmaking

Switching from a small, one-off grants program to strategic, multi-year partnerships can help achieve more significant and sustainable impacts. But like most big changes, this one comes with challenges.

What do strategic partnerships involve?

  • Typically, strategic partnerships involve multi-year commitments to a limited number of partners.
  • Funders need a clear idea of the program areas they are willing to fund, and they need to define specific criteria for potential partners.
  • Partner selection is based on elements such as program fit; quality of leadership; strength of strategic planning; quantified track records; and a propensity to engage in partnership models.
  • Fundamental principles such as equity, transparency and mutual benefit are important to the creation of healthy partnerships.
  • Establishing an evaluation framework in the planning stages of a partnership provides a common language for setting goals and evaluating outcomes. (The Theory of Change provides one possible model for this.)
  • Creating opportunities for strategic partners to meet each year (perhaps more than once) can create further opportunities for collaboration and discussion.

What are the benefits of strategic partnerships?

  • Better social outcomes that could not necessarily be achieved within the fixed time frames of ordinary grants.
  • Greater equity between partners with the shift away from the hierarchy of the traditional grantmaker/grantee relationship.
  • Improved efficiency through carefully defined criteria. This is likely to mean a reduction in the number of applications, but an increase in their quality.
  • An improved success rate as a result of discussion of ideas between potential partners before funding applications are submitted.
  • Potential improvements in the overall quality of discussions, collaboration and learning.
  • A strengthened grantmaking model and clarification of the grantmaker's purpose through the sharing of approaches and insights.

What are the challenges?

  • For some potential partners, structured strategic planning and evaluation are a new undertaking. You may find that they need additional support to work through the process and measure outcomes.
  • Building strong relationships takes time and hard work.

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