This article is for foundations, government agencies and other funders.

Tired of trying to allocate funds using a competitive process when you’re asking collaborations to collaborate?


Collaborations are transparent: collaborations are a set of protocols which organizations use in order to work better together. A collaboration is not an agency in itself, and it does not become another layer of bureaucracy. Because it cannot be incorporated, it cannot distribute funds. When a community receives any new resources, it uses the collaboration processes to decide where those resources can be used most effectively.

Collaborations are driven by a community’s commitment to strengthen service and eliminate barriers to consumers. This model is based on a four step process to engage the whole community (not just the staff of the partner agencies) in enhancing services.

The Community Sets Priorities
The first step in any funds allocation process must include citizens and consumers as well as staff and leaders from the collaborating agencies. At least one community-wide meeting will be held, usually hosted by a mayor or county board member or some other elected official. The purpose of this meeting is to get citizens’ input for prioritizing tangible results programs might accomplish. There is an added advantage: service providers often use this meeting to inform citizens about the problems and services already available to the community, so there’s some education and public relations work done.

Collaboration Partners Create a Budget
While these priorities are being identified, the cost of services is being discussed among professional staff. Individual agencies show what they do related to the outcomes the public is prioritizing, and what it costs and where the resources come from. For instance: How much does it cost for a parole agent to track a juvenile offender? How much does it cost for a person to use county/state employment services? How much does the teen pregnancy prevention program cost? This step builds trust among agencies by sharing data and proving the quality of services being provided.

This information is used by the members of the collaboration to predict costs for carrying out the priorities the citizens want. There’s plenty of negotiation during this time as agencies try to determine how much of the new resources to spend on which efforts. A serendipitous effect of this work is the emphasis on results and tangible outcomes…administrators begin to talk to each other about who is accountable for what result, rather that just programming. For instance, the citizens have listed after school crime reduction as a top priority. The county has $100,000 worth of Time Study money to spend. How much of that money will be spent on this outcome?

Agencies Make Bids
Finally, it is time for agencies to make bids on an allocation. Each agency submits a bid which includes which results they expect to achieve, the work they’ll undertake to achieve those results, and how much it will cost the agency. For instance, in the example above, collaboration partners decide to spend $50,000 on after school crime reduction. Regional corrections submits a bid for two new full time juvenile parole officers, and the parks department submits a bid for more sports program after school, and the Girl Scouts submit a bid for creating four more troops, and the schools submit a bid for after-school learning enrichment activities. These are all activities which might achieve the result of lower after school crime, and each agency is doing the part of the work they do the best. In addition, each agency may be reallocating existing funds differently in order to respond to the community priorities and in order to work effectively with other organizations.

Funding is Allocated by the Organizations Which Do the Work
This open bidding process – every member of the collaborative reads all the bids – avoids secretive competitive proposals. Each agency knows how much money is available and what everybody else wants to do, so service gaps and opportunities are spotted by the bidding agencies, not just by a distant funder. And, most importantly, overlapping bids are handled by the agencies themselves, not some removed group who “awards” funds. If two groups want to do after school sports, they need to work together to eliminate duplication of effort.