The Stew BLOG

How Funders, Policymakers, and Other Allies Can Bolster Multisector Partnerships

Bobby Milstein, Director, System Strategy | 03/22/2017

Last week, we shared our second biennial Pulse Check survey of multi-sector partnerships for health. In last week’s blog post, we described a key finding from the report: that three broad phases—Earlier, Middle, and Later—can reflect the distinct developmental stages common to most multi-sector partnerships. But beyond refreshing what we know about the current state of the field, the Pulse Check also provides new insights into how organizations that are committed to bolstering partnerships can be most helpful.

The overall success of a partnership depends in large part on the context and environment surrounding it. Many other organizations—including philanthropy, nonprofit organizations, federal and state government, business, and other allies—form what we call in the report a “wider ecology of support” around multi-sector groups.

The support that these organizations provide could be even more impactful if designed around where partnerships are in their development. What could they do?

Learn about and consider partnerships’ development when crafting initiatives: The Pulse Check describes common developmental trends that many partnerships experience as they evolve. Understanding the common pitfalls and momentum builders at every stage of a partnership’s development allows funders to thoughtfully structure initiatives to best support partnerships. Grantmakers and other organizations can have the greatest impact if they tailor their intervention to match where the partnership is in its development, taking into account a partnership’s current needs.

Support long-term strategic planning, extending over a decade: Real change can take years and even generations. Supporting organizations can underscore the importance of taking the long view to ensure that strategies are adaptable and will persist through inevitable leadership transitions and organizational change. They can emphasize long-term planning in their and grantmaking approaches.

Position grant funding as a bridge to more dependable financial structures: Grants are often critical forms of seed money for new partnerships, but a major pitfall is treating them as a sustainable form of financing. Oftentimes, they may impede the long-term development of a partnership by creating a structure set up to pursue grant and after grant. Funders should consider how they can foster an environment and mindset built around multiple forms of funding. This may require thinking differently about how grants are made. Investors should be a thought partner and a resource for thinking about how the work can be sustained beyond a single grant-making cycle, over the long term.

Provide core infrastructure and backbone funding: Often, funding is focused primarily around program work, but the cross-organizational infrastructure is the scaffolding upon which successful programs are built. While it may seem prosaic, providing for essential cross-cutting functions such as governance, communications, measurement, and evaluation can be a huge challenge. These necessities should be seen as a core investment.

The field of multi-sector partnerships for health is at a pivotal point in its history, with more new partnerships developing than ever before. It is our hope that the 2016 Pulse Check provides new insights to help both those partnerships and those who support them to succeed.


Support for the Pulse Check report was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rippel Foundation.