One of the principal challenges funders face is figuring out how to inspire others to join them in addressing the issues they care about most. Although reaching out to potential donors to raise the visibility of an issue or to solicit financial support are two common strategies, often the most effective way to leverage external resources in a meaningful and sustained way is to invest in donor partnerships. The New Venture Fund recently published a report, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and produced by Arabella, called Engage Donors to Increase Impact. The report highlights three key elements of effective donor partnerships, the most important of which is fully welcoming all parties as part of the solution.
It’s important to understand what effective donor partnerships look like. In successful partnerships, the funder and its partners work together to prioritize problems, determine fundable solutions, and implement a range of activities to achieve those solutions. Although cultivating such partnerships can be time-consuming, the investment often increases the impact a funder could achieve on its own.
Several elements are critical to developing effective donor partnerships, including a keen understanding of the needs of the partners involved and a strategic commitment to make a long-term investment in developing the partnership. But the most important element is keeping partners themselves at the center of the process and fully welcoming them as part of the solution to the problem at hand. This is critical for several reasons:
- Partners bring more than just financial resources. External partners bring their own expertise, often in fields in which the funder is less experienced. Funders should engage partners in a manner that empowers them to bring this knowledge to bear.
- Commitment to shared problem solving builds sustained engagement. Soliciting financial support for an issue, or raising its visibility, requires only short-term attention from a potential funder. Although such attention is generally better than nothing, a short-term commitment to support a pre-determined solution often isn’t the best way to build toward long-term impact. It also may not appeal to a new generation of donors who seek to be involved as partners in problem solving. Working more closely with such donors takes time, especially up front, but it has the potential to engage them in a more meaningful way and makes them likely to stay committed to an initiative over the long term.
- Engaged partners create a network of allies. Partners who are engaged in the process of prioritizing problems and determining fundable solutions can serve as evangelists and ambassadors in settings that funders might otherwise be unable to access, increasing a funder’s reach and building its network of supporters.
For more on why donor partnerships can be an effective way to leverage external resources—as well as suggestions about how funders can develop effective donor partnerships—please see, Engage Donors to Increase Impact.
Daniel Widome is an associate director at Arabella, where he provides strategy and evaluation services to a variety of clients, develops proposals for new client opportunities, and contributes to the firm’s thought leadership