Dear reader, as part of a special report for Shelterforce I sat down with the heads of four of the largest community development intermediaries in the country and asked a simple question: Are you still relevant?
This six part series looks at the evolution of their role in the community development sector and their strategies for the future.
To binge-read the full report, click here.
Part VI – Stuck in the Middle With You
Intermediaries have become tough old birds. Given that the entire sector is probably just over 40 years old, these entities have seen a lot of bright ideas come and go. In the end, this may be their single greatest strength: they understand the unique business cycles, the key relationships, the bureaucratic mechanics, and the deep-rooted needs that compel the forces behind the machinery. Building on this knowledge and their aggregated heft, they can wedge together a transaction or relationship like nobody else. They fill a critical gap where the knowledge and practice of others cannot reach, simply because the capacity to know what they know requires an entity built they way they are built. If this sounds circular it is intentionally so. Intermediaries have evolved within a closed system catering to that system’s needs.
But there’s something else. The intermediaries have long been the research and development arm of the community development sector, providing classic “idea engineering” services. Only there’s a twist. The goal is to create a non-proprietary product, an anti-patent, a dress pattern down to the stitch work that’s hung in the shop window as marketing. While seldom recognized, this may be the single greatest contribution of the intermediaries to the sector. The ability to aggregate just enough capacity and intelligence to try, fail, flounder and evolve, then turn all the results over to someone else (often including the credit for the innovation). The intermediaries do what individual nonprofits, funders, financiers and public partners cannot or will not do: spend resources to define innovation in a sector where returns are sub-marginal to negative. Why? Because that’s how you keep growing your mission.
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Thanks for tagging along on this series about the evolving nature of nonprofit intermediaries. Just in case you missed the previous segments, you can click on the links below:
- Part I – So, What Exactly Is and Intermediary Anyway?
- Part II – Think Locally, Act Globally
- Part III – The Inefficiency of Scale
- Part IV – The Capital Behind the Capital
- Part V – Staying the Same = Change
For now, this is your Man About Town, reminding you to stay strong, and stay dapper.