Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. The Interaction Framework

Our review of the literature, scan of foundation and USG philanthropic initiatives, and case studies suggest that five types of USG-foundation interactions occur:

  • Incidental Overlap. Only general targets for philanthropy, such as needs, populations, or geographic regions, are aligned. Foundations and USG happen to be working on similar needs, targeting similar groups or geographic regions, or using similar approaches, but the overlap is not intentional or planned.
  • Supplementary Action. Goals are aligned. Strategies may be similar, but they are not developed together. One sector fills a perceived gap in the others activities or approaches. Because they have fewer legal and institutional constraints, foundations typically supplement USG activities, although the reverse may also happen. Supplementary activity by foundations sometimes includes advocacy for changes in public policy.
  • Communication. Goals and strategies are aligned. Foundation and USG actors take account of one anothers activities in a shared arena and communicate with one another about goals, strategies, and progressthrough, for example, conferences, publications, affinity or interest groups, or sometimes more formal communication structures. Resources are devoted to communication but are not otherwise aligned.
  • Coordination. Goals and strategies are aligned; implementation is aligned but carried out separately; resources are aligned but typically not pooled. Foundations and USG deliberately align resources but maintain distinct decision-making structures. These structures allow the participating entities to plan around and respond to each others activities, while strategies are developed and pursued independently. Thus, each sector retains autonomy.
  • Collaboration. Full, formal partnership; goals, strategies, resources, and implementation are aligned. Foundations and USG share decision making, often pool contributions of funding and/or other resources, and share responsibility for implementing specific initiatives within a broad area of need, or through specific components of individual initiatives or projects. Joint decision making occurs.
    • These five types of interaction are characterized by different degrees of alignment between donors in targets, goals, strategies, resources, and implementation (Table II.1). However, these interaction types are dynamic, and they are not mutually exclusive. Over time, one type of interaction can evolve into or engender another. Moreover, since targets, goals, strategies, resources, and implementation are conceptually distinct and the degree of alignment may vary among them, not every interaction fits neatly into a single category.

      Overall, these five types suggest two broad levels of interaction. The first two categoriesincidental overlap and supplementary actionreflect relatively low engagement. They are not partnerships, although they sometimesbut not alwayspresent potential opportunities for partnerships to be developed. The last three categoriescommunication, coordination, and collaborationare true partnerships, in that they include different degrees of alignment and formalization. Examples from the case studies help to illustrate each category of interaction. More important, examples help stakeholders interested in maximizing their philanthropic efforts better recognize the opportunities and constraints that come with different types of interaction.


Interactions Alignment of:
Targets Goals Strategies Resources Implementation
Incidental Overlap X        
Supplementary Action X X      
Communication X X X    
Coordination X X X X  
Collaboration X X X X X

View full report


"report.pdf" (pdf, 1.78Mb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®