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Collaborating Within to Support Systems Change

By Natalie Blackmur

Now available in the Foundation Review!

We’re pleased to announce the publication of “Collaborating Within to Support Systems Change: The Need For — and Limits of — Cross-Team Grantmaking,” co-authored by Director Anjie Rosga, Senior Associate Theresa Esparrago Lieu, and Communications Manager Natalie Blackmur with our colleagues Anna Cruz and Chris Kabel at the Kresge Foundation.

This article arose out of a learning engagement with the Kresge Foundation to better understand their process of making grants across program area teams. Cross-team grantmaking is one tool of many Kresge uses to be responsive to the myriad facets of communities’ challenges and solutions, and to support organizations that do not fit neatly into one program area.

In our evaluation with Kresge, we explored how this approach to grantmaking and greater degree of internal collaboration is working from the point of view of Kresge staff, what enables or inhibits it, as well as whether and in what ways grantees uniquely benefit from cross-team grants. Our article in the Foundation Review highlights key findings from this exploration, including grantees’ resounding appreciation for Kresge’s cross-team approach. Nevertheless, the resource-intensive level of the foundation’s internal collaboration compelled many Kresge staff to seek evidence of impact in the short term, despite the challenges inherent in measuring outcomes in complex, emergent, and unpredictable cross-sector work (for that, we turn to developmental evaluation approaches).

Kresge’s experience with cross-team grantmaking also surfaces a deeply embedded challenge across philanthropy: the historical practice of structuring grantmaking work by program content area is often misaligned with the urgent need to work across sectors to drive complex systems change. As philanthropy seeks to support collaboration among grantees and launches new multifunder collaboratives to affect systems change, we predict that structures within foundations may need to change to actualize this ideal.