First Steps

First, they advised, learn about the government you’re working with as a subject in itself — how it operates, how decisions are made, and how policies get implemented on the ground. “You absolutely must know the rules of the game,” one grantmaker warned. “You will gain respect and access if you have taken the time to know how government officials work, what makes their lives difficult, and their aspirations. It is also invaluable to know the options available in government — and not just in legislation.”

Then, apply the basic rules of good grantmaking, but do it with sensitivity to the circumstances of government. Exercise patience, many advised, not just with how long the work takes but with the inevitability that “leadership changes will upset the apple cart, and you may have to start essentially all over again.” On the other hand, government grantees and partners aren’t necessarily so different from others. One funder made the point succinctly with these “top three” pieces of advice:

“1. Clarify expectations. 2. Operate transparently. 3. Be prepared to be approached for funding by other government entities.”

Finally, pay particular attention to your own role because the power dynamics can feel unfamiliar. A lot of advice from funders boiled down to this: remember that you and your foundation are not necessarily very important to your government partner. “Ask what the government official needs to know to make this a success,” said one grantmaker, “and then plan accordingly.” “Forego all the credit,” said another, “and give credit to the collaborators.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Working with Government.