Part 3: Prizes, Initiatives, and Funds

This is the third and final post in a three-part series exploring how individual grantmakers and funder collaboratives develop and implement strategies to support nonprofits in strategic restructuring.

Three Ways Funders Promote Collaboration


Foundations and other funders support nonprofit collaboration and strategic restructuring in a number of ways. Over the past few weeks, we’ve highlighted two of these: prizes and funds. Here, we wrap up this three-part series by looking at multi-phase initiatives.

Anatomy of an Initiative: Cleveland

In 2010, 18 foundations in the greater Cleveland area came together and created the Human Services Strategic Restructuring Pilot Project. Conceived as a response to the stress being felt by human service organizations as state funding cuts were implemented across Ohio, the Pilot was supported by a consulting team (two experienced local consultants and a La Piana consultant) and documented in a formal third-party evaluation conducted by Case Western Reserve University. The Pilot was carried out over the course of 12 months in three phases:

  1. Education – The Pilot was publicly launched at an invitation-only workshop where organizations were required to be represented by both their executive director and board chair. The workshop attracted leaders from 76 nonprofits.
  2. Assessment – The organizations interested in further exploring partnerships were invited to complete a self-assessment and then meet with the consulting team, who further evaluated the readiness of organizations to proceed to formal negotiations. The consulting team assessed 17 organizations in this phase.
  3. Negotiations – Eight nonprofits were selected to receive consulting assistance in developing and completing restructuring agreements, resulting in four new partnerships (three mergers and one program transfer). The leaders and former leaders of these organizations were celebrated at an event hosted by the sponsoring foundations at the completion of the Pilot.

The high profile of this Pilot, the involvement of a large number of funders, and ongoing funder support for strategic partnerships has kept the spirit of collaboration alive in Cleveland.

Initiative in Progress: Los Angeles

Last year, three funders in Los Angeles launched a similar effort, the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative (NSI). The NSI’s education phase garnered a response far greater than anticipated: nearly 700 board and staff leaders packed the California Science Center last April to learn about strategic partnerships. As in Cleveland, interested organizations conducted a self-assessment and met with a consultant to formulate next steps. Currently, 19 nonprofits are in the midst of negotiating mergers, joint program agreements, and administrative consolidations. Another 10 are close to finalizing applications to participate in the NSI. The high level of interest in L.A. has attracted additional funding partners and the participation of a national organization interested in furthering strategic alliances and restructuring among its chapters.

From Initiative to Integrated Strategy: Sarasota

Equally effective, but designed as a long-term and steady presence encouraging and supporting collaboration rather than a time-limited progression, is the approach adopted by The Patterson Foundation (TPF). Launched in 2010, and coordinated by consultant Pam Truitt, TPF’s Collaborative Restructuring Initiative has become a guiding force in the Sarasota community, bringing together like-minded organizations to build relationships. Some of these discussions have led to exploration of deeper partnerships. Others have created a higher level of regular information sharing and mutual learning that has benefited the community. TPF has incorporated this into its ongoing work, as it promotes “creating new realities through innovative collaboration.” TPF has provided financial support to organizations seeking consulting assistance in negotiating partnerships and has also sponsored workshops for a small group of local consultants interested in professional development and coaching by La Piana Consulting. Pam Truitt has also been a mentor and coach in her own right, connecting with other foundation colleagues around the country to share learning and encourage others to create long-term, multifaceted support for strategic partnerships.

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