Sustaining RPP work is challenging. Funding opportunities vary among the different systems in which RPPs operate. Many RPPs patch their work together on a project-to-project basis with little funding to maintain partnership relationships in between. These funding gaps impact the momentum and growth of the work.
That said, successful RPPs find ways to sustain the work and obtain support from diverse sources.
RPPs might investigate government sources that target research-practice partnerships, such as the US Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences Researcher-Practitioner Partnership program and the National Science Foundation’s STEM-C Partnerships program. At the state level, state agencies may fund research toward the improvement of services. Florida’s Department of Children and Families, for example, has funded research in support of improving child welfare service delivery.
Other public programs that are not specific to research-practice partnerships may offer funding for research projects, communications, or capacity-building activities. For example, the practice partner may be eligible to apply for public dollars to improve services, and either partner might seek community development funds to conduct outreach workshops or share research findings with community stakeholders.
Private funding from foundations and other sources may also support the work of RPPs. Private funders have the advantage of being able to act relatively nimbly. Understanding the diversity in philanthropy is critical in developing strategies to engage private funders. Foundations will think about their philanthropic work differently based on their geographic scope, size, resources, and structure. Broadly, philanthropic organizations fall into several categories: national foundations, local and regional foundations, family foundations, community foundations, and corporate funders. Each of these has structures and goals that shape their grantmaking priorities. Sometimes, private investment can help get partnerships up and running or sustain a partnership until public agencies can catch up and embed some of these partnership maintenance functions in their agencies. One administrator suggested that this kind of upfront private investment could stimulate more of these partnerships, giving them just enough legs to get up and running.
National foundations often have very tightly developed strategies for grantmaking, and sometimes focus a significant portion of their funding on specific projects by invitation only. Though this may seem to narrow funding prospects, it also presents an opportunity for significant funding if a particular RPP’s work is well-aligned with a national foundation’s goals.
Regional and local funders are often interested in proposals that build capacity in their own backyard, and in work that demonstrates effectiveness in improving outcomes for local populations. In some cases, these outlets may be able to provide the difficult-to-secure core support that many partnerships need. Family foundations can be national or regional in scope, but may have commitments to particular lines of inquiry or work that supports particular populations. If there is alignment, these foundations can be good sources of support over multiple years.
Community foundations may also provide good sources of local support. Given their missions to provide support to a wide range of local organizations, grants may be smaller. In addition, corporations and corporate foundations can be sources of funding, particularly if they are known to support education, youth services or research, or are headquartered in places with existing research-practice partnerships.
Increasingly, there are greater calls for institutional support for partnership work among academic institutions. On the smaller scale, academic institutions can provide recognition, administrative and communications support, and seed money intended to sustain relationships in between periods of funding. More substantively, some are making the case for bigger investments from academic institutions—using resources to support, promote, and ensure that partnership work can be sustained and has a recognized place within a scholarly institution.