Working with Government Guidance for Grantmakers

Foundation-government collaborations seem to be on the rise as each sector looks to pool resources with new partners. How can grantmakers take advantage of the benefits while managing the risks of working on terrain that can be unfamiliar to all parties? The guide includes case studies, suggestions for finding changemakers in government, and advice on navigating roles and power dynamics. Government partners chime in with ideas for keeping things running smoothly.

Highlights

  • Ways to work with government
  • Your reality/their reality
  • Philanthropic liaisons and how they can help

What's in the Guide?

  • Why Work with Government?For grantmakers interested in advancing systemic change or addressing root problems, working with government can be an important opportunity — even an essential one. But it can also mean venturing into territory where the rules are new and the power dynamics unfamiliar.
  • Ways to Work with Government: From tight partnerships with firm timelines and objectives to loose alliances that evolve over time, foundation-government partnerships take many forms. What they have in common is a motivation to solve public problems by leveraging the distinctive capacities of philanthropy and the public sector.
  • Scouting for Partners and Projects: Grantmakers who forge good partnerships are often skilled at scanning for innovators in government — officials who are willing to champion improvements and know how to get things done. These funders are also alert for opportunity moments, when help from a foundation makes all the difference.
  • Entry Points: Four Cases: There are certain things that philanthropy can do more easily, rapidly, or flexibly than government can do itself. These four cases — one each from the local, state, national, and international sphere — show how four grantmakers used that insight to open up new opportunities.
  • Managing Relationships with Government Partners: Building and sustaining good relationships takes planning, awareness, compromise, and candor. Here’s straightforward advice about what to do at specific points in the lifespan of a partnership with government.
  • Do Your Homework: Learning about Government and How It Works: Any funder who wants to be an effective collaborator with government officials needs to take a refresher course in how government operates and what it’s like to work in the public sector. Their realities and yours are not the same.
  • Takeaways
    Introduction: Working with Government

    For grantmakers who work extensively with government, the rationale goes something like this: If we really want to address the biggest social problems or meet the most pressing community needs, we’ve got to think strategically about what government can do, how philanthropy can contribute, and how we can forge relationships that catalyze action, leverage resources, and ensure continuing support...

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  • Takeaways
    First Steps

    First, they advised, learn about the government you’re working with as a subject in itself — how it operates, how decisions are made, and how policies get implemented on the ground. “You absolutely must know the rules of the game,” one grantmaker warned.

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  • Takeaways
    Power Relations

    The issue of power relations can be particularly tricky. Like it or not, most nonprofit grantees treat funders with a certain deference. Government partners are less likely to do that — which can cause an unsettling feeling for grantmakers who are used to being the ones whose attention is sought.

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  • Takeaways
    Ways to Work with Government: Teaming Up

    In this type of relationship, a foundation and government partner work directly together to develop and implement a project.

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  • Takeaways
    Co-Funding Resources in Government

    The Public-Philanthropic Partnership Initiative, a project of the Council on Foundations, has assembled a helpful list of cofunding relationship types, along with definitions and relevant guidelines for how and when each may be used. See the initiative’s website for the most up-to-date information on each type and a growing library of online resources.

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  • Takeaways
    Ways to Work with Government: Working Through an Intermediary

    In this type of collaboration, a foundation and government agency work together through an organization that brings special expertise — or the independence that comes from being a third party — to an issue, project, or plan.

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  • Takeaways
    Ways to Work with Government: Exchange and Learning

    Another way to work with government is by supporting discussion or exchange that enables public officials to learn, plan, and make connections. When officials in one Western U.S. state expressed interest in redesigning its Medicaid delivery system, for example, a local foundation covered the cost of briefings and workshops at which key government stakeholders vetted promising ideas.

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  • Takeaways
    Win-Win Projects

    Successful partnership projects maximize the assets of both partners and produce benefits for both sides.

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  • Takeaways
    Scouting for Partners & Projects

    To find likely government partners and projects, experienced grantmakers cultivate networks where they're likely to come across promising ideas, opportunities, and connections. They keep their ears open constantly for people in government who might help move an agenda and for moments when the involvement of philanthropy might be particularly valued.

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  • Takeaways
    Foundation-Government Partnerships: Your Reality and Theirs

    Grantmaker: “This initiative is a top priority for my foundation.”
    Government partner: “This initiative is one of hundreds of responsibilities for my agency.”

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Foundation-government collaborations seem to be on the rise as each sector looks to pool resources with new partners. How can grantmakers take advantage of the benefits while managing the risks of working on terrain that can be unfamiliar to all parties? The guide includes case studies, suggestions for finding changemakers in government, and advice on navigating roles and power dynamics. Government partners chime in with ideas for keeping things running smoothly.

Highlights

  • Ways to work with government
  • Your reality/their reality
  • Philanthropic liaisons and how they can help

What's in the Guide?

  • Why Work with Government?For grantmakers interested in advancing systemic change or addressing root problems, working with government can be an important opportunity — even an essential one. But it can also mean venturing into territory where the rules are new and the power dynamics unfamiliar.
  • Ways to Work with Government: From tight partnerships with firm timelines and objectives to loose alliances that evolve over time, foundation-government partnerships take many forms. What they have in common is a motivation to solve public problems by leveraging the distinctive capacities of philanthropy and the public sector.
  • Scouting for Partners and Projects: Grantmakers who forge good partnerships are often skilled at scanning for innovators in government — officials who are willing to champion improvements and know how to get things done. These funders are also alert for opportunity moments, when help from a foundation makes all the difference.
  • Entry Points: Four Cases: There are certain things that philanthropy can do more easily, rapidly, or flexibly than government can do itself. These four cases — one each from the local, state, national, and international sphere — show how four grantmakers used that insight to open up new opportunities.
  • Managing Relationships with Government Partners: Building and sustaining good relationships takes planning, awareness, compromise, and candor. Here’s straightforward advice about what to do at specific points in the lifespan of a partnership with government.
  • Do Your Homework: Learning about Government and How It Works: Any funder who wants to be an effective collaborator with government officials needs to take a refresher course in how government operates and what it’s like to work in the public sector. Their realities and yours are not the same.