What Are the Middlemen Doing? Our New Intermediaries Knowledge Center

As a funder, you may have engaged with intermediary organizations (or thought about it), which can often be middlemen between grantmakers and grantees. Yet what these partnerships entail is not always clear. The Grants Managers Network was curious to know what effect intermediaries have on grantmaking practices, and asked us to investigate. Do intermediaries reduce administrative burden? Do they complicate the application and reporting process to foundations? How so?

With these guiding questions, we ran searches for intermediary organization and other equivalent phrases through IssueLab, a number of philanthropy support organizations, and even Google. Intermediary certainly returned the most search hits, but backbone, re-granter, and go-betweens also led us to relevant information. Surprisingly, there was not a wealth of material devoted to the topic to be found. For our investigative question, it wasn’t enough for publications to just mention intermediaries – we were most interested in their impact on the grantmaking process.

The fruit of this work and our literature review is available to you through IssueLab’s Intermediaries Knowledge Center as part of Foundation Center’s online resource library. The current collection has 50 listings from 39 different publishers. While there isn’t a single body in our sector devoted to thinking with a research lens about intermediaries, it is a topic of interest across many foundations, organizations, and publications. With knowledge spread so far out though, there is little consensus within the field about how to define intermediaries, what functions they play, or even if intermediary is the best term to use. These questions were unexpectedly a reoccurring theme throughout the collection. Many of the authors prefaced their writing with their own criteria for intermediaries. As a result, the intermediaries mentioned in the collection range from capacity builder and re-granter to service provider and relationship builder.

That is just a fraction of the knowledge contained in the library. More than one-third of the listings are on funder-intermediary relationships and offer pearls of wisdom from funders who have direct experience working with intermediaries. They see great promise in extending their reach with these middlemen, especially with international grantmaking, but also caution against using them to save money or for the sake of simplicity.  Regardless of when and why to use intermediaries, it is nearly unanimous that as best practice, a successful intermediary collaboration is reliant on setting clear roles and goals.

If the nebulous nature of intermediaries has you scratching at your head, don’t fret! The collection is searchable by three major categories:

  • Working with Intermediaries
  • What Intermediaries Do
  • Where They Work: Case Studies.

You can also a filter by document type to locate toolkits, guides, surveys, reports, and more.

Don’t know where to start exploring? See if you can find one of my personal favorite reads – the Hewlett Foundation’s case study on using intermediaries to support the arts in San Francisco.