Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. B. DEVELOPING INITIATIVES


In shaping the type of support they will provide, foundations and USG face several common considerations. The literature reveals foremost among these a great deal of tension around the relative utility and potential for the success of initiatives that provide program support (resources specific to a programmatic intervention) versus those that provide operating support (resources for the organization implementing a program) (Balin 2003; Huang, Buchanan, and Buteau 2006). An oversimplification of the issue would have foundations focusing heavily on program support (given their comparative advantages in innovating and taking risks by funding cutting edge programming), whereas USG would emphasize operating support (given its superior resources and staying power). Reality, of course, is more nuanced than this characterization, and many foundations do provide operating support, even as USG funds some programs. Moreover, the approaches are not mutually exclusive; a single initiative could comprise both types of support (Balin 2003; MCC 2008b). Rather than advocating any particular approach, the literature suggests that an organizations strategy should consider how one or the other type of support dovetails with organizational objectives (Balin 2003; Porter and Kramer 1999).

Another theme in the literature that describes decision-making around the development of USG and foundation initiatives is the question of whether, and with whom, to partner. Such considerations typically are driven by the comparative advantage of the groups involved and very often center on the question of an initiatives sustainability (Fink and Ebbe 2005; MCC 2008b; U.S. Department of State 2008; W.K. Kellogg Foundation 2003). Some of the benefits that foundations, in particular, might seek from partners include technical expertise; in-country knowledge; connections to academe, the private sector, and civil society; knowledge of public policy and public institutions; and resource mobilization networks (Fink and Ebbe 2005; U.S. Department of State 2008). Similarly, USG often seeks connections and networking opportunities from partners and is especially interested in organizations and individuals who can find markets for an initiative; that is, who can support widespread adoption of whatever programmatic elements an initiative may offer (MCC 2008b; U.S. Department of State 2008).

The literature indicates that both private and public sector actors are keenly interested in cross-sector collaboration and developing partnerships, but obstacles exist that hinder their progress. Successful partnerships require that all parties involved understand the interests, capacities, and approaches of the other actors (Fosler 2002). Yet a State Department study found that private sector partners felt the USG did not understand their interests and looked to them only to fill gaps (2008). Respondents also felt that USG was overly suspicious of private sector motives. This same study revealed that USG actors felt they were ill-equipped to deal with private sector partners and that bureaucratic structures hindered the development of partnerships. While these issues present challenges, the United Nations Foundation suggests that intermediary organizations might occupy a particularly good position for overcoming such problems and facilitating partnerships, as they have a foot in both worlds, public and private (2003).

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