Partnering With Intermediaries

Tom David

2007, 32 pages,   www.tdavid.net

Because an intermediary organization (IO) is being asked to take on a function for a foundation, lines of power and authority can become blurred, especially in cases when an outside entity is making grants and convening key parties with the foundation’s dollars and under the foundation’s imprimatur. Tom David offers a series of best practices and outcomes based on interviews with over 50 foundations who have partnered with IOs:

  • An important starting point for foundation-IO relationships is to propose some "first principles" for working with intermediaries. Four emerged from the interviews: clarity, partnership, networks, and the long view.
  • Foundations should look at their partnerships with IOs as part of a multi-year investment strategy to build essential infrastructure in their fields of interest. In fields that have been chronically undercapitalized, foundations cannot afford to ignore capacity issues. Given their size, today’s foundations have an opportunity to seriously capitalize key intermediary institutions and to think in generational terms.
  • Creating a new IO was something that most interviewees felt should only be done with caution or in very specific circumstances. As an alternative, it was suggested that foundations scale up an existing organization or have the patience to identify and nurture creative individuals who are already endeavoring to start up a similar vehicle.

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