Working with Government: Guidance for Grantmakers

Publication date: 
June, 2010

Foundation-government collaborations seem to be on the rise as each sector looks to pool resources with new partners. How can grantmakers take advantage of the benefits while managing the risks of working on terrain that can be unfamiliar to all parties? The guide includes case studies, suggestions for finding changemakers in government, and advice on navigating roles and power dynamics. Government partners chime in with ideas for keeping things running smoothly.


  • Ways to work with government
  • Your reality/their reality
  • Philanthropic liaisons and how they can help

What's in the Guide?

  • Why Work with Government?For grantmakers interested in advancing systemic change or addressing root problems, working with government can be an important opportunity — even an essential one. But it can also mean venturing into territory where the rules are new and the power dynamics unfamiliar.
  • Ways to Work with Government: From tight partnerships with firm timelines and objectives to loose alliances that evolve over time, foundation-government partnerships take many forms. What they have in common is a motivation to solve public problems by leveraging the distinctive capacities of philanthropy and the public sector.
  • Scouting for Partners and Projects: Grantmakers who forge good partnerships are often skilled at scanning for innovators in government — officials who are willing to champion improvements and know how to get things done. These funders are also alert for opportunity moments, when help from a foundation makes all the difference.
  • Entry Points: Four Cases: There are certain things that philanthropy can do more easily, rapidly, or flexibly than government can do itself. These four cases — one each from the local, state, national, and international sphere — show how four grantmakers used that insight to open up new opportunities.
  • Managing Relationships with Government Partners: Building and sustaining good relationships takes planning, awareness, compromise, and candor. Here’s straightforward advice about what to do at specific points in the lifespan of a partnership with government.
  • Do Your Homework: Learning about Government and How It Works: Any funder who wants to be an effective collaborator with government officials needs to take a refresher course in how government operates and what it’s like to work in the public sector. Their realities and yours are not the same.
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