Connecting the Dots: The Core of Public/Private/Philanthropic Partnerships

“The way we worked before, whatever worked before is changing, transforming. Are we prepared, proactive?” That was the over-arching question from last week’s Joint Conference of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the Minnesota Council on Foundations.

"Now is the era of partnerships." Grantmakers are uniquely positioned to connect the dots between public, private and philanthropic organizations.

Right in line with our conference theme, “Transforming Our Work: From Challenging Times to Hopeful Futures,” Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, shared his thoughts on transformations in philanthropy.

Foundations are moving toward mobilizing resources and making strategic philanthropic investments. The reality is, after the federal stimulus money is gone, resources will not be available to return to the way we worked before. “How will we respond?” Gunderson asks. “Now is the era of partnerships.”

Gunderson cites education as an example. In the past, the public, private and philanthropic sectors worked separately in their own way to tackle their priorities. In this new time of partnering, these sectors are playing not just side by side but together.

Philanthropy’s role can be to create innovation – to connect the dots – to connect funding resources with those who need it. Gunderson outlines the four Cs key to public/private philanthropic partnerships:

  • Connections: Nonprofit delivery systems and the philanthropic sectors need to be connected with the public sector. This needs to occur on the federal level, and just as importantly, on the state and local levels. Regional associations and local governments must be involved too.
  • Communication: Sharing, opening and broadening communication that is two-way is important to partnership success and future efforts.
  • Capacity-building: What role can philanthropy play in equipping nonprofits and government?
  • Convenings: Bringing diverse groups in each community together to define strategies and move forward is key. Nonprofits who are on the ground, know the needs of their communities and provide delivery systems to meet those needs must also take responsibility for bringing the many players together.

Join the conversation: What’s your take on this new era of public/private/philanthropic partnerships? What can and should be the role of each sector? What’s a great case study or partnership example?

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

6 Responses to Connecting the Dots: The Core of Public/Private/Philanthropic Partnerships

  1. Thank you for capturing the essence of Steve’s presentation. It was one of the highlights of the conference for me.

    I just wrote a blog post ( where I referred to Steve’s presentation, and linked to your post. My post is called, “What does it mean to be a nonprofit in a declining empire?”

  2. Laura Deaton says:

    I think you’re right, Cary. Here’s the link again…it absorbed one of the parentheses above.

    Warm regards,

  3. Cary says:

    Thanks, Laura! There’s a term in biology called “parallel evolution” where organisms in different areas develop similar traits to respond to their environment. I think that’s what we’re experiencing here!

    The current environment is challenging us all to think about partnerships in new ways, and start to develop new strategies for “connecting the dots”. We’d love to hear more about what you’re doing. Can you re-link to your blog post? It didn’t work for some reason.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mitch Nauffts and OnlyFoundations, Laura Deaton. Laura Deaton said: <Thx! Saw ur tweet and had to comment!>@pndblog: Reading "Connecting the Dots: Pub/Priv/Phil Partnerships" […]

  5. Laura Deaton says:

    Hi – I saw this from following @pndblog on Twitter, and thought I’d just jump in. I just posted a blog last night about “sector blur” after spending the whole weekend with a bunch of Southern policy wonks. You can read the whole post here (, but here’s an excerpt of my thoughts from the weekend:

    As I gathered my own thoughts following the weekend’s intensive session, I realized that regardless of what sector we focus on (including the private sector), we all have the same key priorities:

    * How do we work together to cultivate and grow our next-generation leaders?

    * How do we work together to improve education, health and job prospects?

    * How do we work together to build sustainable infrastructure that will allow us all to flourish?

    * How de we build cross-sector partnerships that are designed to create and drive a new future, not only within individual communities, but regionally, nationally, and across the globe?

    * How do we lift each other up and support each other to become all that we can be?

    I also find myself energized by the recognition that to truly build healthy, vibrant communities, the public and community benefit sectors need to link hands with the private sector and answer these questions together.

    So exciting to see the folks in Minnesota on the same track!

  6. Cary says:

    Fantastic post, Chris. I think Steve is right, we’re experiencing a new paradigm shift towards partnerships fostered by necessity (the economic downturn) and enhanced by new technology (better data, better communications enabling more effective collaboration). Tough times, but also exciting times!

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