Partnership Among National Foundations

Between Rhetoric and Reality

A frequent question asked of Foundation staff members is, "How often do you collaborate with other philanthropies?" It seems that people outside philanthropy think that collaboration is a natural event, that there is a tight fraternity of philanthropies that want to work together on common problems.

In fact, as described in this chapter, collaboration among philanthropies is not so natural, and occurs less frequently than might be expected. Co-authored by Stephen Isaacs, who has written extensively on philanthropy over the past five years, and John Rodgers, a researcher at Health Policy Associates, the chapter examines partnerships involving national foundations generally and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation specifically. It explores the theoretical and practical reasons that collaboration among foundations should make sense, why it does not happen frequently, and what elements should be in place for partnerships among national foundations to succeed. As such, the chapter should interest both policy-makers and a general audience, including readers who want to understand how foundations operate.

Illustrating the discussion is a case study of a collaboration currently under way—the Turning Point program—between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Turning Point seeks to strengthen the public health infrastructure in states and localities across the country. The authors take a hard look at the pitfalls and the potential payoffs associated with the partnership. They chronicle the efforts of the two foundations to attain the program's goals, but the end of the story will have to be told in a future Anthology chapter.

The fast growth of technology companies and the tremendous economic expansion of the 1990s increased the ranks of philanthropies in America, and the issue of collaboration will likely become more important than ever. This chapter offers a useful primer on how partnerships can work and when they are likely to be worth the great effort they involve.

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