Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries

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1 1 PRACTICE MATTERS THE IMPROVING PHILANTHROPY PROJECT Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries To download for free, log on to the Foundation Center s web site: foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/practicematters/ Made possible by: The California Endowment The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation John S. and James L. Knight Foundation The David and Lucile Packard Foundation Peter L. Szanton Series Editors Patricia Patrizi Kay Sherwood Abby Spector September 2003

2 About the Project Practice Matters: The Improving Philanthropy Project presents a series of papers that explore, and ultimately aim to advance, key practices in philanthropy. Written by national experts, the titles address ten core philanthropic practices: using intermediaries, sponsoring policy commissions, effecting community change, attracting and managing talent, creativity in grantmaking, using ideas in building a field, building organizational capacity, communications for social good, foundation partnerships, and evaluation. The series starts from the premise that philanthropy, as a field, needs to understand good philanthropic practice much better than it does now, and that there is a discernible craft that can be taught and improved. The papers and accompanying discussion guides are available for free download at the Foundation Center s web site at foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/practicematters/. Practice Matters: The Improving Philanthropy Project is supported by the California Endowment and the Robert Wood Johnson, Ewing Marion Kauffman, John S. and James L. Knight, and David and Lucile Packard Foundations. The project is housed at the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning in Philadelphia. Patricia Patrizi, Principal, Patrizi Associates, directs the project. Abby Spector serves as project manager and Kay Sherwood is the principal manuscript editor. For more information, please contact: Patrizi Associates 1528 Walnut Street, Suite 805 Philadelphia, PA (215) , ext. 235 About the Foundation Center Established in 1956, and today supported by hundreds of foundations, the Foundation Center is the nation s leading authority on organized philanthropy. It maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. grantmakers and their grants, conducts research on trends in foundation growth and giving, and operates education and outreach programs. Thousands of people visit the Center s web site each day are served in its five regional learning centers and its national network of Cooperating Collections. For more information, visit foundationcenter.org or call (212) For more information, please contact: The Foundation Center 79 Fifth Avenue New York, NY (212) foundationcenter.org Copyright 2006 by The Foundation Center. All rights reserved. ISSN Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 2

3 Editors Note Many foundations see intermediary organizations (IOs) as offering a quick way to solve problems, but the reality is that intermediaries can add layers of governance and complexity. Funders use IOs for a variety of reasons to bring programs to scale, to increase efficiency, to control foundation administrative costs (by transferring responsibility to IOs), or to strengthen knowledge and capacity in a given field. Also, some funders use IOs to build credibility and a reputation in areas where they were untested. In many cases, foundations have succeeded in creating and using IOs to further philanthropic goals, yet in others the IO structure has led to conflict, extra work, and extra costs for the foundations and grantees. This paper discusses the reasons funders use IOs, the inherent benefits and difficulties, and the circumstances in which foundations might make this choice. Based on interviews with 70 funders, intermediaries, and grantees, it is the first systematic look at IOs across multiple foundations and fields of endeavor. The paper lays the groundwork for future analysis of the specific structures, costs, and effects of IOs. Patricia Patrizi Kay Sherwood Abby Spector Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 3

4 Preface This is a paper about the use, misuse, and better use of intermediary organizations. It notes the range of tasks that intermediaries of varying kinds have been given, identifies the main benefits and difficulties generated by those uses, and describes a number of the lessons to be learned from that body of experience. Its purpose is to identify best practices of foundations or, more properly, to distinguish more effective from less effective practices in selecting, tasking, and relating to intermediaries. Its focus is therefore on foundations. But since the consequences of interposing an intermediary between funder and grantee fall also on intermediaries and on grantees, the paper considers a number of benefits, difficulties, and effective practices for those organizations as well. Considers is the appropriate verb. Useful though we hope it is, this study, for two reasons, is far from definitive. The first reason is the paucity of prior work. Starting with the creation of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation by the Ford Foundation in 1979, the use by foundations of intermediaries appears to have increased very greatly. Among the likely causes have been the rapid growth in foundation resources during the 1980s and 1990s, the increasing philanthropic concern with strengthening whole fields of interest (health care, the environment, minority rights, arts organizations, and the like) rather than only individual institutions, and the tendency of newer and especially the larger West Coast foundations to staff themselves thinly and to make only large grants directly, delegating to regranting institutions the selection and support of smaller nonprofits. Yet this evolution has been almost entirely unstudied. There is descriptive literature on the development of financial intermediaries serving community development organizations, but neither data nor analyses that we could find on any other uses of intermediaries by foundations. Indeed, although there exists at least one account of how intermediaries are employed by one program in a particular foundation, there appear to be no published studies of the use of intermediaries across the range of programs within even a single major foundation. 1 The second reason is the magnitude of the subject. The number of significant foundations is huge; 2 there exists no listing of foundations that have utilized intermediaries; few persons in any foundation that has utilized them are able to generalize even about the experience of their own foundation; and intermediaries of many kinds have been used for an astonishing variety of purposes under a wide diversity of circumstances. Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 4

5 Preface So, producing a comprehensive study of the lessons to be learned from that range of experience would require an effort of heroic scale. Charged only with describing what seem to be the larger truths about when and how funders now use intermediaries, and what good practice seems to be, this study was produced in two stages. In the first, to generate some initial hypotheses and to identify a sample of foundations to contact, I consulted with a number of persons knowledgeable about foundations generally. In the second, colleague Julie Peterson and I began the sampling. We first sought interviews with persons in each of the sixteen foundations that, in 2000, made grants totaling more than $100 million; these foundations make larger and more numerous grants and use intermediaries more frequently than smaller funders do. We then interviewed persons from an equal number of smaller and mid-size foundations, including several community foundations. Since operating foundations have little need for intermediaries and little experience with them, virtually all of the foundations we interviewed were grantmakers. In each case, we sought to interview an officer who had done substantial work with intermediaries. Where feasible, the interviews were conducted in person; in other cases, telephone interviews were conducted. We asked respondents about their experience with intermediaries generally and sought to examine in detail the costs and benefits of their use of at least one intermediary they regarded as representative. With some we also tested our evolving hypotheses about the benefits and costs of using intermediaries, and about means for enlarging benefits and reducing costs. We then sought to interview the relevant person at whichever intermediary a funder had discussed, and we ended by seeking the perspectives of a number of the relevant grantees as well. We also had the benefit of an unpublished survey of the views of some 30 grantees that had previously dealt directly with a foundation but were now, for the first time, working with intermediaries. Appendix I lists all persons interviewed. We are truly grateful to all who consented to talk to us. Almost uniformly, they were generous with their time, candid often strikingly so in describing their experiences, and thoughtful in reflecting on what had worked well, what had worked poorly, and why. I am particularly in debt to the officers of the Cleveland Foundation named in the Appendix; in addition to providing thoughtful accounts of what they had learned both as funders and as intermediaries, they served as critical reviewers of an early draft of this paper. I am similarly indebted to Patricia Patrizi, who commissioned this work, and to the knowledgeable and extremely helpful group she gathered together to comment on a later draft: Elizabeth Bremner, Martha Campbell, Rick Cohen, Stacy Daniels-Young, Mario Gutierrez, Barbara Kibbe, Julia Lopez, and Joan Wynn. My greatest debt is to Julie Peterson, who conducted many of the interviews and who performed throughout the study as the best informed, most persistent, and most helpful of critics. Peter Szanton Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 5

6 Executive Summary Foundations use intermediary organizations (IOs) to pursue their objectives more effectively often when the foundations do not have the internal expertise or capacity, or do not wish to develop expertise or capacity internally, to perform functions such as selecting grantees in a specialized field, providing grantees technical assistance, and evaluating grantee performance. In the world of philanthropy, IOs can be regranters, receiving foundation monies to identify, assess, and provide grants to organizations with similar purposes. IOs can be capacity-builders, dedicated to helping grantees that are selected by foundations achieve their organizational or grant-specific goals. IOs can be created collaboratively by two or more foundations to establish a project or program of common interest. IOs can be evaluators focused on advancing knowledge about what works in an area of program interventions. Or IOs can serve as intelligence gatherers and grantmaking advisors on a particular issue or field without having any operational responsibilities. Many IOs play more than one of these roles. Regranters, for example, are frequently capacity-builders as well. Whatever their purposes in employing IOs, foundations have generally been learning from experience rather than from research about best practices in this area. Since the creation of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) by the Ford Foundation in 1979, the use of intermediaries by foundations appears to have increased greatly; however, there is a paucity of data and analyses to suggest when and how foundations might best employ intermediaries. The study conducted to produce this paper, although limited compared to the magnitude of the subject, offers some good news about learning: While there is great variation in IOs in their functions, sources of funding, autonomy, specialization, and organizational forms the lessons drawn from foundations experiences of using them are quite similar. Potential Benefits and Potential Problems of Using IOs Foundations have much to gain by using IOs, both in grantmaking convenience and impact on the fields they target. The potential tactical benefits of IOs (for grantmaking convenience) include speed, reduced staff costs, lowered visibility on potentially controversial issues, the judgment of Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 6

7 Executive Summary independent outsiders, access to experts who could not necessarily be employed directly, credibility, and eased program exit. Strategic benefits for foundations employing IOs include the ability to strengthen grantees, learn more about grantee organizations and their fields, leave a field-building resource in place after grantmaking programs end, and encourage local investment in grantee organizations. Collaborative IOs those created by foundations with mutual interests offer the additional benefits of pooled funding, coordinated approaches to a problem or field, simplified administration for grantees, and greater flexibility. Offsetting these potential benefits to funders are significant potential problems. First, funders especially funders new to the use of IOs tend to underestimate the complexity and the risks involved in placing an IO between themselves and their grantees and thus, they tend to under-manage the IO relationship. IOs inevitably bring to their roles their own histories, values and purposes. It is essential that funders, at the outset, make clear to IOs what they want to achieve, what they want to avoid, and what the relative responsibilities of IOs and funders are to be. Second, when funders place IOs between themselves and grantees that they previously dealt with directly, complicated issues of trust often develop. IOs hired to help build the capacity of grantees, for example, require an understanding of grantees deficiencies, but grantees will not readily identify their weaknesses to entities they do not know or trust and they are likely to be particularly protective if their weaknesses are greater or more numerous than their funders know. Third, because IOs put some distance between funders and their grantees, the result can be funder inattention, followed by a loss of interest. Outsourcing all the difficult and hard work to an IO can result in little foundation engagement with the overall effort. Fourth, IOs can develop an interest in the success of grantees that leads them to exaggerate grantee accomplishments. This places a premium on independent assessment of IOs and independent evaluation of grantee accomplishments. Finally, the use of IOs can change funders needs for staff. Because foundations often use IOs to change the nature of their relationships with long-term grantees from retailers to wholesalers, their own staffing needs can shift. Typically, with the use of IOs, foundations transactional burdens diminish, but their priority-setting, managerial and oversight responsibilities expand. Issues for IOs and Grantees Most of the problems IOs themselves encounter in their relationships with foundations stem from a failure to anticipate the risks involved. In addition to the trust problem, the main danger to IOs is insufficient or uncertain support. This could result from an IO underestimating costs Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 7

8 Executive Summary e.g., because a capacity-building IO is faced with grantee needs deeper or more numerous than it expected or the funder allowed for. It could result from an IO s initially sufficient funding dropping because the value of the funder s assets slip, or from a key program officer being replaced by someone who regards the IO as an excessively expensive middleman, or from donor fatigue that begins to afflict the funder s board. Insufficient support is particularly dangerous for nonprofit IOs because, like many nonprofit grantees, their capitalization may be thin and their reserve capacity small. Also, IOs and grantees may pay a price for candor. If a funder s staff (and board) would like to believe that their prior grantmaking was wise, they may not welcome an IO s finding that the deficiencies of traditional grantees are deep or their effectiveness is questionable. Grantees often have their own difficulties with IOs. They may be troubled by an IO simply because it severs what previously had been a direct relationship with a funder, thereby removing the seal of approval that direct support from a prestigious foundation implies. IOs are very likely to impose tougher requirements on grantees for more frequent or detailed reporting, or for evidence of results achieved, rather than accounts of hours worked or clients served. Such requests may be seen as disrespectful or evidence that the IO is more like an overseer or agent of the funder than a helper. More threatening are IOs that push for substantive and perhaps radical change. Viewing the grantee s field strategically, IOs may conclude, for example, that additional funding is not the most urgent requirement, and that service priorities should change, or that competing grantees must specialize and then coordinate. Grantees may also see IOs as competitors. They may believe that an IO absorbs funds that might otherwise have gone to themselves. Grantees may worry that an IO will claim credit for their own future successes. Or, because IOs are generally better funded and more diverse in their work than grantees, and because their staffs tend to be better paid, a grantee may fear that an IO may recruit some of its most valuable staff members. Probably the most threatening situation is that in which the IO provides or is feared by the grantee as likely to offer some or all of the same services as the grantee itself provides. Whatever the source of concern, grantees may be wary of IOs. Funders need to take that possibility into account and seek ways of reducing grantee concerns. They might require, for example, that as a condition of employment, an IO explicitly agree not to compete for the clients, staff, or funding of the funder s current grantees. Grantees may have some special concerns about IOs created by collaboratives. One is the pooling of information among many funders. This makes it more difficult for grantees to tell different stories to different funders. One funder in a collaborative may be aware of grantee weaknesses unknown to other funders and, since members of collaboratives tend to pool what they know about grantees, the grantees deficiencies become more widely known. Another grantee concern about collaborative IOs is that they may become all-or-nothing bets. If a collaborative decides Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 8

9 Executive Summary against funding, grantees income may dry up entirely. While some collaboratives encourage grantees to deal with funders directly as well as through the collaborative, nonetheless, if a majority of collaborative funders decide that a prospective grantee is unworthy of support, even members that disagree may be discouraged from providing further funding. Implications for Foundations When a foundation decides to interpose an IO between itself and grantees, or between itself and a field that was previously supported directly, questions arise about communication with grantees, management of IOs, foundation staffing needs, relations with other funders, and foundation program planning (including exit strategies). Although the body of research to inform foundations about these questions is slim, their collective experience is substantial enough that potential problems can be anticipated and often avoided. Foundations can use IOs more effectively when their goals for IOs are clear and when they know what to expect from IOs and grantees in this relationship. Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 9

10 The Nature of Intermediaries Broadly speaking, an intermediary is any person or organization whose function places it between two other persons or organizations. Obviously, then, foundations themselves are intermediaries; they stand between individual donors and ultimate grantees. John D. Rockefeller s philanthropy illustrates the transition. His early gifts, small and large dimes to poor children, personal checks to the University of Chicago were made quite directly. Later, he created a foundation and it then made grants. Most grantees are intermediaries as well. The homeless, not the homeless shelter; the patients, not the hospital; the local residents, not the Community Development Corporation, are the ultimate beneficiaries that most foundations seek to serve. But, no one consulted in the course of this study suggested that, as the term was understood in philanthropy, intermediary normally referred either to a foundation or to a grantee. Then what did it refer to? There was no agreement. It turns out that, in the world of philanthropy, intermediary has no accepted definition. For some, the term applied only to organizations that regranted funds received from a foundation. Unless you fund, you re not an intermediary, a senior foundation officer announced. Offered that definition an hour later, another officer of the same foundation responded, Oh, no; that s just a financial view. An intermediary is anyone that a grantee thinks it has to be responsive to. And they are not all regranters. But many respondents preferred a functional definition: An intermediary is any organization that performs a program function that the foundation would otherwise have to perform itself, as one person put it. But what is a program function? Is technical assistance (TA) a program function, for example, and are TA providers therefore intermediaries? Some respondents thought clearly not: TA providers were simply grantees; they stood to the side, not between grantor and grantee. Suppose a funder intended to strengthen a grantee or group of grantees quite fundamentally and thereby put an end to annual rescue operations, as one funder put it. Would a TA provider with that mission be an intermediary? A few respondents thought not; it would just be a consultant. But most concluded that such TA providers were indeed intermediaries, on either of two theories. One was that if the foundation wanted to raise a grantee to a substantially higher level of capability, and the job of the TA provider was to achieve that, then it was clearly performing a program function and was Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 10

11 The Nature of Intermediaries therefore an intermediary. The second theory was broader: Any foundation giving a TA provider such an assignment would sooner or later expect advice from it as to whether the grantee was worth continued support. Even if the TA provider were not a regranter, therefore, it could strongly influence grantmaking. That would make it an intermediary and, as one respondent remarked, any savvy grantee would see it that way. A Definition Clearly, there is a continuum of relationships that funders may form with other entities to more effectively pursue their objectives. Imagine the use of regranters as anchoring the left end of that continuum. A regranter is clearly an agent of the funder and, within whatever boundaries the funder has set for it, its authority over grantees is essentially complete. It stands between funder and grantee, it performs the archetypal program function grantmaking and so not merely influences but decides who shall be funded. Under any definition offered us, a regranter is clearly an intermediary. At the opposite end of the continuum stand informal relationships among two or more foundations. Two foundations with programs in the performing arts, for example, decide to jointly support several conservatories. Their staffs jointly develop criteria for selecting particular conservatories, make joint site visits, and informally agree on how the grants of each might supplement those of the other. Each staff then presents a proposal to its own board, and each board independently decides whether and to what extent to fund it. Here two organizations are also working together, but no entity stands between either funder and any grantee; only the funders themselves perform program functions and, although each funder may somewhat influence decisions of the other, that effect is minimal because each was independently interested in supporting conservatories in the first place. Here, clearly, there is no intermediary under any definition. For purposes of this study, the question What is an intermediary? is essentially a question of how far to the right along that continuum to draw the line. Since the study s purpose is to examine the use by foundations of entities that any substantial group of funders think of as intermediaries, it seemed most useful to draw that line somewhat to the right of center. We therefore treat as an intermediary any organization that is employed by one or more foundations and that meets any of three tests. It: funds a grantee or grantees directly; or performs a function so important to the funder that, absent an intermediary, the funder would have had to perform it itself; or Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 11

12 The Nature of Intermediaries relates to a grantee, grantees, or a field of interest in any other way that makes it a potentially significant adviser as to further grantmaking. Many intermediaries, of course, qualify on more than one ground. Regranters, for example, are frequently capacity-builders as well, performing an important program function. But we include all that meet any one of the conditions. 3 Great Variation So defined, the variety of intermediaries (abbreviated throughout the remainder of this paper as IOs ) is extraordinary. They vary broadly in function. Some provide funding. Regranters do so with foundation funds (as the Hawaii Community Foundation does with environmental funding from both the Packard and Hewlett foundations); national community development intermediaries do so with syndicated tax credits. Many provide some form of TA: training, coaching, or advice. A few, like the Tides Center, might be regarded as administrative enablers fiscal agents and back-office service providers. Some do community organizing. Some advocate for changes in policy or fund research, such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which does both. Some, like many of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation s National Program Offices, are mainly off-site managers of a foundation program. Some serve principally as advisers to a funder and have little direct connection to grantees; the relation of the Vera Institute of Justice to the Ford Foundation s international policing program is an example. Others have little relation to their funder, but like most of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation s Intermediary Support Organizations, have close relationships with grantees. Some form one link in a chain of IOs. Thus, a national Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) may make a grant to a local CDFI, which lends or grants to a Community Development Corporation (CDC), which lends to a grocer in an under-served neighborhood. Many perform some combination of these functions. IOs vary in sources of funding. An IO may be created and supported, at least initially, by a single foundation, as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) was by the Rockefeller Foundation, or it may have support from several foundations, as The Energy Foundation had from its inception from Rockefeller, MacArthur, and Pew, and as IAVI has now. It may also have funding from public agencies and corporations as well as foundations, as Cleveland s Neighborhood Progress, Inc. does. Or, as many CDFIs do, it may have sources of earned income as well as grant funding. Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 12

13 The Nature of Intermediaries IOs vary also in degree of autonomy. Some regranters are seen by funders as institutions of such excellence that they should be left free to use grants entirely as they see fit. Others are tightly constrained. One set of regranters, for example, was required by its funder to be transparent in its procedures, to perform analyses of need, to convene potentially complementary groups, and to support potential lead organizations through training and funding for strategic planning. In this case, moreover, in addition to monitoring the regranters, the foundation monitored their impact by maintaining direct contact with many of the organizations they funded. IOs vary by degree of specialization. Some exist only to serve as IOs; others are IOs only on the side. Philadelphia s OMG Center for Collaborative Learning, for example, a consulting organization whose principal products are analyses and evaluations, also serves as a capacity-building IO for a program of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Finally, IOs vary in organizational form. Most are nonprofit organizations of diverse kinds foundations (especially community foundations), public charities (United Ways, for example), departments of universities, research organizations, or trade associations supporting the social goals of their members. But some (Brody and Weiser, for example) are for-profit firms, and some, relying on established organizations for administrative and financial services, are not formal legal entities at all. Although relatively rare, a particularly significant variation in form significant in that several of its benefits to funders and of its costs to IOs are distinctive is between what might be called unitary and collaborative IOs. Most IOs are unitary. Whether for-profit or not-for-profit institutions, they are permanently established legal entities not governed by any funder or combination of funders. The Corporation for Supportive Housing, for example, is an independent 501(c)(3) organization governed by its own board of directors and supported by various funders to work with local communities interested in enlarging the stock of permanent housing for persons who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Collaborative IOs are different beasts. They are made up of funders often a large number of funders that have agreed for some period of time to pool resources and let the pool be allocated by decisions of collaborative members operating as a group. Chicago s Fund for Immigrants and Refugees is such a collaborative IO. (See box on page 14.) There are less pure cases Cleveland s Neighborhood Progress, Incorporated, for example, where the collaborative is governed by a combination of funders, local government officials, and representatives of affected communities. But in all collaboratives, the defining characteristics of an IO are present. The collaborative stands between individual funders and grantees. It regrants, and in many cases seeks to build organizational strength in its grantees. It typically becomes a significant source of advice on grantmaking to individual funders as well. Commonly, it performs all three roles. Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries 13

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