Model Partnerships for Impact

In 2015, Independent Sector collaborated with 80 partner organizations to hold community conversations in cities across the country. This tour – called Threads – was a landmark opportunity for leaders in the charitable sector to discuss common challenges and share ideas about solutions.

In every city, one consistent impediment to meeting mission was raised: the strained relationships between grantees and funders. With this in mind, Independent Sector set out to add knowledge and tell stories that that would help move grantee/funder ‘power dynamics’ in a more productive direction.

Our first contribution to this conversation is a series of eight case studies – called Model Partnerships for Impact – that showcase a grantee and funder pair who exemplify healthy relationships and illuminate the practices and behaviors that contribute to a positive power dynamic.

For a look at some of the lessons we learned through this work through the lens of human-centered design, check out our five-part blog series Model Partnerships: Lessons Learned.


Prince George's County Public Schools and The Wallace Foundation Case Study

In the five years since The Wallace Foundation began funding Prince George’s County Public Schools to develop and train a pipeline of effective principals, there have been three superintendents running the school system. To say the results of their work are impressive, given this turnover, is an understatement.

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Open Road Alliance and Splash Case Study

When short-term funder Open Road Alliance (ORA) and clean water-focused Splash met for the first time, no funding was on the table. ORA asked for the meeting because it wanted to learn. Now, four years and two grants later, the two organizations see themselves standing together as partners into the future.

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The Weingart Foundation and Moms Orange County Case Study

By investing in organizations, rather than programs or projects, results can have lasting impact in communities. That's the philosophy that has guided the Weingart Foundation's longstanding partnership with MOMS Orange County. Together, they are realizing a shared vision for a better California where at-risk mothers are able to give birth to healthy babies.

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American Express and Center for Creative Leadership Case Study

Leveraging the strengths of both organizations, American Express and the Center for Creative Leadership have been able to strengthen and hone the leadership of hundreds of nonprofit leaders.

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The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and Communities In Schools Case Study

The commitment to shared learning is just one of the reasons Communities In Schools and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation are featured as our fifth Model Partnership for Impact. Click here to learn more about their story.

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The Cricket Island Foundation and Communities United Case Study

The focus on learning, rather than achieving pre-determined metrics, catalyzed both organizations to have deeper impact in communities. Click here to learn more about the Model Partnership for Impact: Communities United and the Cricket Island Foundation.

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The Creating IT Futures Foundation and Per Scholas Case Study

Per Scholas and The Creating IT Futures Foundation shared a common goal of building an evidence base that moves a field, rather than a single project, and scaling accordingly. Click here to learn more about their story.

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The Wilburforce Foundation and National Wildlife Refuge Association Case Study

This case study explores the long lasting results that can occur when partners are both aligned on a shared vision and engaged in consistent dialogue about challenges. Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge Association and The Wilburforce Foundation.

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Model Partnerships For Impact Synposis

This synopsis provides a snapshot of what we learned from 40 qualitative phone interviews with grantee and funder pairs who believe they have healthy relationships. It is intended to highlight the key findings, potential trends, and areas for further exploration.

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Given such a robust topic, IS sought to understand the nature of grantee-funder relationships when they go well. We identified, through a variety of sources, 20 pairs of grantees and funders who mutually believed they had a healthy relationship. We conducted 40 qualitative phone interviews (individuals were interviewed separately) to learn more about their partnership. From these interviews, an independent advisory group selected the pairs which had the strongest indicators of a healthy grantee/funder relationship.

For the purpose of this work, a healthy relationship was defined as:

  1. Alignment between the grantee/funder responses.
  2. Embody a relationship that is authentic/honest, representing the opportunities and challenges which come with partnership.
  3. Discussing, to any extent, productive and unproductive aspects of partnership.
  4. Having jointly developed terms of the relationship/what the future looks like.
  5. Illustrating demonstrative impact in their communities as a result of their work together.

Next Steps

Independent Sector will use this body of work as a pilot to develop customized programming that addresses the needs of communities articulated by the field’s leaders.

Independent Sector’s goal in this work is to help grantees and funders engage in healthier relationships so that organizations fulfill their missions and strengthen the communities they serve. We will use the information gleaned across this work to begin to build a series of prototype tools to help grantee/funder pairs have healthier relationships. Prototype tools will be piloted at the 2016 Independent Sector Conference in Washington, D.C. November 16-18, 2016.

Following the publication of these case studies, IS will publish a snapshot of key findings gathered from the 40 interviews conducted. If you have any further questions or comments, please contact Marie LeBlanc, manager, Independent Sector at