When Partnering, Alignment and Trust Can Trump Money

When Partnering, Alignment and Trust Can Trump Money

Posted on August 25, 2014 by Michael Corley, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Foundations have money. Nonprofit agencies need money to do their work. This dynamic makes for interesting relationships. Or should I say partnerships? Foundations and nonprofits like to call their relationships partnerships, but what does this really mean and what makes a good partnership?

Some may say that any time a foundation "gifts" money to a nonprofit, a partnership is created. This transactional exchange of money-for-good-work is important and necessary, but is it really a partnership??

Recently, Bob Ottenhoff, CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), which is a partner of The Patterson Foundation, described what makes a good [foundation] partner for his nonprofit organization:

  • Alignment on goals, strategies, and activities
  • Regular communication on things big and small
  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Advice, suggestions, feedback, creative ideas, access to experts, phone calls, introductions, tweet, connections
  • Occasional financial fuel to help us keep making progress

Bob recognizes that in order to accomplish the mission for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, he is going to need help from outside of his organization. He needs foundations to understand his goals and strategies, so advice and counsel can be provided to him. He wants regular communication so the relationship continues to expand, and values transparency so he can share his failures without repercussions. Over time, this builds trust so that the relationship continues to grow into a partnership where the foundation is vested in the success of his organization.

Money is important, and by the generosity of benefactors and our IRS tax code, foundations have the money to give to nonprofit agencies. But note what Bob states about money, “…and some occasional financial fuel to help us keep making progress." Properly structured to support both operations and programs, grants can be a leveraging tool to complement partnerships.

Money is important for the work nonprofit agencies perform. So is trust, support, introductions, expertise, communication, and transparency. Put all of these together, and maybe this is the definition of a foundation-nonprofit agency partnership?


  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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