tree leaves networkedFoundations that move beyond traditional grantmaking to joining funding collaboratives or to awarding grants to coalitions are willingly entering a realm that can be less predictable, possibly risky, yet powerful.  Across the country funders are increasingly supporting networks, coalitions, and partnerships – fostering learning, cooperation and strength.

One New England funder’s network- and coalition-centric grantmaking is paying off in many ways.  It is  increasing land conservation as measured by dollars and acres, while also helping build a network of conservation organizations that are smarter and more ambitious than ever.

Regional Conservation Partnerships

The most recent initiative of the Jessie B. Cox Trust supports coalitions of conservation organizations in New England – where challenges of increasing density persist and the cost of land has sky-rocketed.  These coalitions, called Regional Conservation Partnerships (RCP), share the goal of increasing the scale and pace of land conservation. Read about the Network of RCPs and the Wildlands and Woodlands vision to conserve 70 percent of New England permanently free from development.

Just as the forests and habitat that the Cox Trust seeks to help protect operate at a regional level, so must its nonprofit organizations and partners.  Networks and coalitions can address challenges of scale, connectivity, strategy development and fundraising in ways that a single nonprofit organization could not.

Risk and opportunity

Dealing with regional coalitions requires stepping out of the familiar comfort zone of working with individual organizations.  It requires a degree of flexibility and patience to adjust to the messy and complicated realities of many organizations figuring out how to work together at a scale.

While the size and complexity of coalitions might suggest a greater investment risk to the foundation, the collective intelligence and diverse strengths of the many coalition members tend to make the coalitions surprisingly resilient and adaptive.

As networks and coalitions become more widespread as leading platforms for social change, funders increasingly will have opportunities to launch them, build their capacity, and help them manage growth and change.  Learn more: Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funders Guide, Monitor Institute and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, 2011.

Prentice Zinn, Principal of GMA Foundations, administers The Jessie B. Cox Trust Regional Conservation Partnership Grant Initiatives. His observations in Early Lessons from the Cox Trust Donated Land and Easement Fund are on the RCP Network’s blog. Contact Prentice via