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Trust-Funded Partnership Program Pitfalls

If you’ve read Trust-Funded Partnership Programs 101, or maybe from your own experience, you know that these structures can end up overcomplex and undermaximized. But as with most things in life, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. There are lots of ways to get on track and stay on track, but let’s consider four pitfalls for starters.

Pitfall number one: A first challenge is recognizing the trust fund is just a funding vehicle. Money talks, and partners listen – but there are other voices in the room. Putting too much emphasis on the trust fund, and not enough on the collaboration around it, is like missing the forest for the trees. The trust fund is a managed account, basically a means to an end, and the money is there for a purpose, not an end in itself. When considering the initiative, try stepping back to see the partnership program – meaning the partnership and the program – first. Then consider the trust fund from that broader lens. You might be surprised what you see.

Pitfall number two: Another challenge is creating a partnership program that fits the context. Whether pressures to standardize, lack of imagination, or unwillingness to do the legwork to figure it out, these shortcuts usually undercut the partnering potential. There is always a trade-off between standardization and customization – and participants, especially trustee and secretariat functions, operate within prescribed parameters that cannot be ignored. However, all partners, supporting entities included, can often do more to seek that sweet spot where the trust-funded partnership program can be fit-for-purpose and maximize potential.

Pitfall number three: Trust-funded partnership programs cannot afford to stay static. Part of being fit-for-purpose is adjusting over time, as the partnership matures and circumstances change. There are ways to anticipate change and build in flexibility. It is that rock and water combination – stability and fluidity at once. Smart allocations of roles and responsibilities, and smart alignment of agreements and structure are two levers in the tool kit to let trust-funded partnership programs both be solid on the ground and go with the flow.

Pitfall number four: There is no substitute for spelling it out and getting consensus. Keeping the forest in view, contextualized, stable and flexible means covering a lot of bases. Partners need to know where they are and what they are up to both at the start, to make sure they want to come along – and throughout, to make sure they get there. To paraphrase the old real estate adage: articulation, articulation, articulation. Yes, it bears repeating, and yes, it is an iterative exercise, getting all terms clear and all partners on board.

In trust-funded partnership programs, well-propositioned means well-positioned, so here's to happy honeymoons and happy anniversaries!

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