Functions & Challenges of Intermediary Organizations

Sam Piha, a veteran of the afterschool field and founder of Temescal Associates, recently developed a paper on intermediaries for Putnam Consulting Group and The Cleveland Foundation. Sam interviewed me by email about the important role that intermediaries play in collective impact efforts. It’s a conversation worth sharing. Stay tuned as we roll out the rest of the conversation in the coming days. See a list of the previous questions and answers posted below.

  • Important Characteristics of an Intermediary Organization
  • The Importance of Intermediary Organizations to Implementing Community Initiatives

Piha: What do you believe are three or four of the most important intermediary functions? 

Pittman: FSG identified six core functions (updated in their July 2012 SSIR article):  1) guide vision and strategy, 2) support aligned activities, 3) establish shared measurement practices, 4) build public will, 5) advance policy, 6) mobilize funding. Not only do I think these are the right functions, I think they have them listed in the right order. If the first three functions aren’t done correctly, it’s very difficult to do the second three.

Piha: What, in your experience are the greatest challenges that an intermediary organization will face? What, if any, are solutions to avoiding these challenges? 

Pittman: When the decision is made to select an existing intermediary to play this role, the challenge is not just about the capacity. For a mature intermediary, the hidden challenges are often negotiating the fit (e.g. if the geographic footprint or the target population of the initiative is slightly different than that of the intermediary) and demonstrating neutrality. The solution is to be as transparent about these tensions up front and to develop mechanisms that help the governing group and the partners check for signs of stress.