A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

How Funders Can Build and Sustain Cross-Sector Partnerships

Though many of us support partnerships between grantees, our role is often limited to grant-related financial transactions. Time and again in our work at the Crimsonbridge Foundation, we’ve found that going beyond grants to be partners alongside our grantees has a multiplying effect on our philanthropic dollars.

One example is our decade-long partnership with the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and Teach For America D.C. Region (TFA DCR).

In a new case study, we took some time to reflect on the partnership and the unique role funders can play in supporting partnerships like these.

Our partnership began in 2007 when a parent, a teacher, and a private school leader asked themselves: How can understanding how the brain works help teachers more effectively reach, engage, and instruct students so they can achieve their highest potential? The question led them on a collaborative journey resulting in the founding of CTTL and training for teachers locally, nationally, and internationally.

The partnership has taken many forms over the years, adapting to organizational needs, changes in leadership, and lessons learned along the way. Here are a few lessons we believe will shape and influence our future partnerships.

Travel with the right people

What expertise and capabilities does this vision require?

Who are the right people for this journey?

Can we work together effectively?

The best collaborators are high-quality leaders excited about a shared vision and willing to do the work necessary to make it happen: to take risks, to trust, to lead. Perhaps most important, the right partners provide fuel for the long journey.

According to Gabriela Smith, the parent in our story and the founder/president of Crimsonbridge Foundation, “Respecting and trusting your partners unlocks your ability to think big, overcome challenges, build on each other’s strengths, and work collaboratively towards a shared vision.”

Keep going!

How can we help one another?

What can we do to overcome the obstacles we’re encountering?

As partners navigate the path together, they will undoubtedly reach forks in the road and unexpected roadblocks. The team may need to pause, for example, when the leadership of one partner changes. TFA DCR experienced a few changes in leadership between 2010 and 2015. The stability offered by a steady leader since 2015 has allowed the partnership to resume its journey at a swifter pace.

During trying times, communication, respect, and patience are vital. Said Glenn Whitman, the initial teacher in our story and now CTTL director, “We agreed: We’re going to be fully transparent.”

Adopting an entrepreneurial mindset that does not shy away from risk can also help a team successfully cross difficult terrain.

Journey on behalf of others

Why are we on this journey?

Who will ultimately benefit?

Having a goal larger than the sum of the partners provides inspiration and focus, particularly during trying times. In our case, all partners were clear about their commitment to developing excellent teachers so students may flourish: “…to benefit each student who deserves to have a teacher, in every year of his or her academic journey, and at every point of his or her day, who believes in his or her potential, and who knows the science behind teaching, how brains learn, and how students thrive.”

To see additional insights on actions that donors and foundations can take to ensure partnership success and to explore examples of the unique roles funders can play, we encourage you to download our new case study.

Danielle M. Reyes is executive director of the Crimsonbridge Foundation. She has spent more than 20 years in the nonprofit sector and has an extensive background in organizational development, nonprofit capacity building, and developing social media, marketing, and communications strategies.

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