Rising to the Challenge: The Strategies of Social Service Intermediaries

by Karen E. Walker; Child Trends; Lori Delale-O'Connor

Feb 22, 2012
During the past decade, "intermediary organizations" have proliferated across the nonprofit sector. These organizations are typically positioned between funding entities (e.g., government agencies, foundations and corporations) and direct service providers. Intermediaries play an important roll in connecting organizations that share a common interest--and working to enhance the services these organizations provide, build larger service networks, promote quality standards, and monitor programs on behalf of funders.
  • Efforts to connect national, state and local intermediaries working on the same issues have been limited. Fostering such connections would be beneficial for intermediaries at all levels—for example, allowing national and statewide intermediaries a direct link to local practice, while offering local intermediaries easier access to research and trends in their field.
  • Currently, intermediary practice is developed through trial and error of individual intermediaries, which is a realistic approach for a newly developing field. However, the growth of intermediaries and the increasing need to demonstrate that scarce resources are being spent wisely suggests that the trial-and-error period will need to be replaced by approaches that have documented evidence of success, even if the evidence does not meet the highest standards of rigor.
  • Funding for intermediaries—especially in a tough economy—is challenging because many of their core functions are not easily supported through traditional social services’ funding mechanisms. Intermediaries’ efforts facilitate the work of other organizations. Funding models that can support local, state and national intermediaries’ core functions need to be developed.
  • The need for intermediaries to evaluate their programs, functions and outcomes early in their organizational life and as often as financially feasible cannot be overstated.
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