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Insights from a TPI Workshop with European Community Foundation Initiative

By Lina Kukulskyte, TPI Programme Manager

Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver a partnership workshop on behalf of TPI at the European Community Foundation Initiative (ECFI) network meeting of community foundation support organisations. The event, focusing on partnering for the SDGs, shed light on the unique partnership models employed by community foundations (CFs). As a trusted intermediary between funders and grantees, CFs have valuable insights and experiences to offer the broader philanthropic sector in advancing the SDGs.

During the session, participants were introduced to TPI’s framework for philanthropic partnering approaches:

This framework, developed as part of our Partnering for Philanthropic Impact programme, consists of four models that foundations can adopt in their partnering efforts. It is very much a spectrum and while there are four distinct models, some organisations may fall somewhere between categories or may have several partnering approaches that would fit under a few categories.

As we move from left to right on the spectrum, partnerships become more complex and have a greater potential for transformational development. However, this complexity of the partnership doesn’t necessarily make it better – the ‘systems leader’ approach is not feasible or desirable in every context or for every type of funder. The key is to adopt the partnership model that best aligns with the goals and context of the foundation and the communities it serves.

These partnership models were initially developed by TPI while working with private, corporate, and family foundations. Therefore, it was intriguing to explore how they resonated with the work of community foundations and in particular in respect of how their work contributes to the achievement of the SDGs. Participants engaged in discussions about this framework and its relevance to CFs across Europe. Here are some reflections and key takeaways from the discussion:

  1. Establishing trusted partnerships: One distinguishing characteristic of community foundations is their role as a ‘trusted partner’ to both funders and grantees. Many CFs go beyond providing funding and actively engage in project implementation, particularly in the UK. The proximity of CFs to their local communities enables them to foster long-term partnerships rather than transactional relationships. This deep engagement helps build trust and enables CFs to make a lasting impact.
  2. Moving from ‘traditional’ to ‘transformational’ development: There is a growing aspiration among CFs to engage in more transformational development. Such development involves complex partnerships that require additional resources and time. Two key factors facilitate this shift: resources, especially human resources, and time for establishing legitimacy, connections, and community rapport. Small CFs with limited staff capacity may struggle to engage in transformational development, emphasizing the importance of adequate resources and dedicated personnel.
  3. The role of leadership in partnerships: While resources and time are crucial, effective leadership within CFs plays a pivotal role in determining the success of partnerships. Some CFs possess abundant resources but lack dynamic senior leadership. In such cases, stagnant leadership can hinder progress and prevent the organization from adapting to new approaches or embracing change. To foster successful partnerships, CFs must prioritize forward-thinking leadership that is open to innovation and willing to adapt to evolving needs.
  4. Trust as a crucial component: At TPI, we emphasise that ‘partnerships move at the speed of trust’. Trust is a vital element in partnerships, and its presence or absence can significantly impact collaboration. Participants from Latvia, Germany and Romania revealed that trust remains a challenge in their countries, not only between civil society organizations but also across different sectors. In Latvia, for instance, competition among grantees due to a lack of resources impedes collaboration. Issues around trust were also raised by Joanna Marinova in her blog about partnering practices and cultures in the Bulgaria philanthropic sector. Recognizing and addressing trust issues is essential to building effective partnerships that drive positive change.

CFs prioritize building enduring relationships with grantees and communities rather than engaging in one-off, transactional interactions. Other foundations can learn from this approach and seek opportunities to establish more sustained partnerships. CFs’ emphasis on trust, long-term relationships, and proactive collaboration offers valuable insights for other foundations.

By prioritizing resources, time, and effective leadership, foundations can strive to build partnerships that move from transactional to transformational, ultimately leading to a more significant and sustainable impact. Embracing these principles will not only benefit individual foundations but also contribute to a more interconnected and impactful philanthropic landscape in order to accelerate progress toward the SDGs.

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