Toward More Effective Use of Intermediaries

by Peter L. Szanton

Sep 1, 2003

Explores changing the role of evaluation in philanthropy, from a method for measuring program outcomes into a tool for achieving foundation effectiveness and accountability. Part of the series Practice Matters: The Improving Philanthropy Project.
  • Tactically, the benefits of intermediary organizations include speed, reduced staff costs, lowered visibility on potentially controversial issues, the judgement of independent outsiders, access to experts who could not be necessarily be employed directly, credibility, and eased program exit.
  • Strategic benefits for foundations employing IOs include the ability to strengthen grantees, learn more about grantee organizations and their fields, leave a field-building resource in place after grantmaking programs end, and encourage local investment in grantee organizations.
  • Funders tend to underestimate the complexity and the risks involved in placing an IO between themselves and their grantees and thus, they tend to under-manage the IO relationship.
  • Most of the problems IOs themselves encounter in their relationships with foundations stem from a failure to anticipate the risks involved. In addition to the trust problem, the main danger to IOs is insufficient or uncertain support.
  • Foundations can use IOs more effectively when their goals for IOs are clear and when they know what to expect from IOs and grantees in this relationship.
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