Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. Choosing Partnerships: Factors to Consider

and how USG-foundation interactions unfold depends on the answers to questions about the nature of the problem being addressed, communication between stakeholders and their commitment of resources, and the ways decisions are made. This chapter highlights some questions that federal officials engaged in health and social services may wish to examine as they consider philanthropic initiatives and whether to partner with foundations in their efforts.


Key Findings from This Chapter

Three central questions address the wisdom and feasibility of establishing partnerships between federal and foundation philanthropic stakeholders:

  1. What is the scope of the problem and what piece can stakeholder partners address?
    Our analyses suggest that more narrowly defined problems may hold greater potential for partnerships between USG and foundations. Clear or narrowly defined problems, such as reducing illness and death from malaria, allow potential stakeholders to assess whether strategies to address it are compatible with their organizational capabilities. When a problem is less clearly understood or broader in scope, such as poverty or democratization, greater ambiguity or complexity may hamper partnerships.
  2. What are the costs of the partnership and what value is added by partnering?
    Partnership costs stem from the need to identify partners, navigate organizational or cultural constraints and differences; maintain communication; execute, implement, and monitor agreements; and provide governance. Benefits can also be substantial, such as organizational learning, minimizing duplication, and leveraging additional funding. Organizations that use partnerships have sometimes developed approaches to identify and assess costs and benefits in order to choose whether, at what point, and how to partner.
  3. Who needs to be at the table and how can they be encouraged to participate?
    Convening stakeholders can be both a useful planning exercise and a potential partnership strategy. Including those with the authority to make decisions about participation and resources appears critical to an initiatives success. Although foundations are not the only possible conveners, they may have advantages in this role over government or for-profit entities.
    Certain leadership structures used by USG, such as the U.S. Malaria Coordinator, may also facilitate partnerships by offering a single, well-defined, and clearly understood point of contact for foundations or other private entities, as well as aligning federal agencies and efforts.


Questions surrounding the desirability and feasibility of partnerships may not be answered definitively in the early stages of a philanthropic initiative. Nevertheless such questions merit thought from the beginning and reconsideration throughout the lifecycle of an initiative.

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