Collaborative Philanthropy: Results and Lessons Learned

A Special Report on Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Local Funding Partnerships

Local Funding Partnerships (LFP) operated for more than a quarter of a century and funneled more than $260 million in RWJF and local dollars into more than 300 community projects scattered across both the nation and the health spectrum.

“I think the nutshell of LFP was to demonstrate how a national foundation could partner effectively with local funders to improve health and health care in communities, with the voice of the local funder driving the identification of the project.”—Jane Isaacs Lowe, PhD, MSW, RWJF

While the goal of advancing community health through partnerships remained constant, LFP had to adjust to shifts in the health care system, the philanthropic field, and most significantly, RWJF’s own grantmaking strategy and organization. LFP was always—as Polly Seitz, MPA, MS, RN, the program’s long-time director, liked to say—“a work in progress.”

The story of RWJF Local Funding Partnerships is a story of relationships based on shared visions for a vibrant and healthy society. A key ingredient has been its devotion to learning and its commitment to the belief that each partner has much to offer and much to learn.

LFP offers several lessons for local and national philanthropies—lessons about relationships,  respecting differences in perspective, collaboration, and management and leadership.

Lessons from the Local Perspective

While RWJF brought to LFP knowledge, credibility, prestige, and broader resources,

“local funders understand the politics and dynamics in local communities” and they offer a “depth of practical, how-things-get-done knowledge.”—Robert E. Eckardt, PhD, Cleveland Foundation

Local funders sometimes question whether national foundations understand how different grantmaking is at the local level.

The local grantmaker gets feedback “in the supermarket, on the street corner, at the symphony.”—Robert Eckardt, Cleveland Foundation

The value of LFP collaboration extended well beyond the financial support it provided for local projects.

“This ability to connect local and state work to a national agenda made us feel as a foundation that we were part of a health philanthropy movement.”—Mary Vallier-Kaplan, Endowment for Health, NAC Chair

Understand that communities have different traditions and experiences with philanthropy.

“If a local organization isn’t used to getting funds that are tied to meeting benchmarks, they may find their first experience with a national foundation disconcerting.”—Polly Seitz, national program director

A local funder that becomes involved in a project may have a bigger impact on its outcome than one that writes a larger check but does not otherwise participate.

“Money isn’t everything.”—Polly Seitz, national program director