Funder Collaboratives: Why and How Funders Work Together

When it comes to funder collaboratives, is the whole truly greater than the sum of its parts? Can foundations make a bigger impact with grant dollars by working together than by going it alone? Yes, grantmakers say, as long as members define their goals, set clear operational guidelines, and work from the start to make the collaborative function well for grantees. In this guide, contributors share strategies for structuring a collaborative to fit its purpose, building strong relationships and resolving conflicts, and figuring out if the collaborative you're in is working. Contributors also offer ample proof that collaboratives are leading the field in bringing the voices of nonfunders - grantees, intended beneficiaries, experts, and others - into the process of making grants.

Highlights

  • Designing a collaborative to fit the purpose
  • Questions to answer at the start
  • Benefits and challenges of funder collaboratives
  • Three case studies 

What's in the Guide?

  • Getting Serious about Funder Collaboration: After years of hearing that more collaboration would be a good thing, funders seem to be getting beyond the talk and finding new ways to work together. 
  • Focus and Function: Designing a Collaborative to Fit the Purpose: A collaborative takes shape when a group of grantmakers recognize that they share a common focus — and that they might be able to do more together than they can on their own. The next step is figuring out how to structure a collaborative to serve the function they have in mind. This section outlines three basic types, with examples of each. 
  • Organizing for Good Relationships and Outcomes: A collaborative runs on the power of its relationships, which can run a little more cleanly if the group takes time to set some simple ground rules. Yet a certain amount of "messiness" is inevitable in any collaborative venture. 
  • What Do We Do About…? The beauty of predictable problems is that they can be anticipated, planned for, and perhaps even avoided. In this section, grantmakers share tips about what to do about tensions that arise in many collaboratives: clubbiness, disagreement, and more.
  • Roles for Nonfunders: Funder collaboratives have found creative ways to involve nonfunders in their work. When funders make common cause, it seems, it's not such a stretch to include others.
  • takeaways
    Roles for Nonfunders

    A former foundation president cited a similar experience: “A few years ago, our foundation worked with a number of local nonprofits to create an initiative to end childhood hunger in our city. Every organization — from food banks to foundations — that worked on nutrition issues was at the table, contributing ideas and participating in meetings to figure out what to do. We had committees and groups working on each part of the question. Eventually, we hammered out a plan and then sent that draft around for comment.”

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Hiring a Staff Intermediary

    Many funders believe that collaboratives work best when they have staff or a managing director to keep the trains running and coordinate communication among members.

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Common Collaboration Problems + Tactics

    1. Personality Problems

    • Promote open, honest communication.
    • Identify people who might have trouble collaborating upfront. 
    Read More »
  • takeaways
  • takeaways
    Organizing for Good Relationships and Outcomes

    Demonstrate trust and respect for the people you are working with. In a collaborative that explicitly wanted to bring new funders into a field, for example, a grantmaker whose foundation contributed the majority of the initial funding urged the group to equalize voting rights:

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    The “Messiness” of Collaborative Relationships

    Many researchers and consultants who study organizational dynamics agree that personal relationships are the seeds of nearly all collaborations and key to fostering success once a collaborative effort is underway.

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Challenges: Funder Testimonials
    1. Control - “You don’t always get what you want. Your foundation could be particularly attached to an individual grantee and other people might say, ‘But they’re not doing what we want.’ You have to make compromises. For some foundations, that’s difficult.”

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Growth Capital Networks

    Growth Capital Networks - type of venture philanthropy that bring together investors — individual and institutional — to seek out proven organizations and fund major expansions. They typically involve a constantly shifting set of potential funders that could constitute a collaborative on any given deal, rather than a fixed set of funders focused on a specific initiative for a long period of time.

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Venture Philanthropy

    Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) got its start in 2006, when a group of national funders who had been active in the Working Group on Education Organizing decided to create a pooled fund to support intensive community organizing for school reform.

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Giving Circles

    Giving Circles - individuals join together to pool money, skills, and perspectives to solve a problem (usually in donors' own community or region), are one of the oldest forms of philanthropy.

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Common Focus: What Brings Funder Collaboratives Together
    • Field - some collaboratives seek to develop or advance a particular field, often one that’s new or growing, such as reproductive justice or disability rights.
    • Solutions - some collaboratives form to address a specific issue or solution, such as federal immigration reform, especially when funders see a moment of policy opportunity.
    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Types of Funder Collaboratives

    Funder collaboratives tend to fall into three broad types:

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    What Funder Collaboratives Are and Aren’t

    According to experienced grantmakers, most funder collaboratives have these characteristics:

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Focus and Function: Designing a Collaborative to Fit the Purpose

    “Having participated in numerous funder collaboratives,” one grantmaker reflected, “I think it’s fair to say that there is no one right way.”

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Collaboration: On the Rise with a New Generation?

    “Younger people in philanthropy seem to be more interested in collaborating,” one program director notes — an observation that evidence suggests may be more than just a gut feeling.

    Read More »
  • takeaways
    Economic Downturn Impact

    The recent economic downturn, for example, has severely diminished the financial resources of philanthropic institutions and the nonprofits they support.

    Read More »

Readers often tell us that GrantCraft guides are helpful to them, not just as individual readers but when they want to get a conversation started or work through a process with others. Here are three suggested ways to use the guide with colleagues.

  • Use it to make the case with colleagues. Use the guide inside your foundation or among colleagues in a field or community to talk about whether a collaborative makes sense for your work. The guide offers common language to get a conversation going about the benefits and challenges of working collaboratively.
  • Use it to stay focused as you get started. Start-ups are always messier and more chaotic than anyone expects, and collaboratives are no different. Use the flow chart on page 15 to track progress and make sure you don't lose an important step along the way. The chart can also bring up issues that are tempting to avoid because they are hard to do or take time. If you decide to skip something, be sure you have a good reason - since many experienced grantmakers have said those steps are important.
  • Use it to keep a group honest and on track. Once you are in a collaborative, use our checklist on page 19 periodically to assess whether the group is attending to its indicators of success. Ask everyone to fill out the form candidly, from their own point of view, and have someone aggregate the feedback (anonymously) to create a picture of the group as a whole. The good, bad, and ugly can be shared for analysis to open up difficult topics and celebrate what's working.

Comments