Key Points

Intermediary organizations are increasingly being engaged to work with grantees in the context of collective impact and similar collaborative approaches that aim to solve significant societal problems. At times the backbone organization – the group providing support to the collective effort – takes on the work of a fiscal intermediary. This dual role has two distinct functions: engagement of collaborative partners to advance a shared agenda, and distributing funds while holding those partners accountable.

This article explores the complexities of the dual relationship by using examples from the Social Innovation Fund, a White House initiative, and Got Your 6, a collective-impact campaign that seeks to bridge the civilian-military divide. Given that the intersection of fiscal intermediaries and backbones is a relatively new phenomenon, there is a gap in the literature about the challenges organizations playing this dual role may face. But the benefits may outweigh the challenges if the dual role is deployed effectively; participants in the case studies offer insights into this.

The foundation community would be well served to explore the alternative approaches to integrating funding with backbone roles as they work with their collective-impact partners. Collectively, a field of practice can be built if funders continue to experiment with how to better integrate the disparate roles and share the results of those experiments.