Tackling climate change. Reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. Revamping our education system. It’s impossible to tackle the world’s most pressing issues alone, and the good news is, you don’t have to.
While the concept of collaboration in philanthropy isn’t new (think: United Way, and Community Foundations), in recent years, the number of new donor collaboratives like Blue Meridian Partners and the END Fund have risen, demonstrating the increased interest in the power of collaborative giving. Done well, collaboration can present new opportunities for donors to make smart investments that have a lasting impact.
But the benefits don’t end there. A new study, titled “Are Funder Collaboratives Valuable?” by Bridgespan’s Alison Powell and Susan Wolf Ditkoff, reviewed the literature on the topic and did a deeper study of 10 more successful collaboratives and 15 that experienced significant challenges. Of the more successful collaboratives, funders were indeed satisfied, with 94 percent agreeing it was a success. Specifically, benefits like learning more, forming relationships, and funding a strategy aligned to the scale of the problem topped their list.
While the study found that the benefits of collaboration outweigh the costs for the funders they surveyed, collaboration isn’t always the answer. When is it better to collaborate versus go it alone? What makes a collaboration successful? And how can they be set up for long-term success? The research seeks to probe the efficacy of collaborative philanthropy and best practices for success, examining not only collaborations that are ongoing, but also some which have “failed,” cases which are too often ignored in philanthropy.
Among the 15 collaboratives that faltered or failed, many reported inconsistent goals among funders, failure to translate goals into time-bound achievable milestones, and limited stakeholder engagement in establishing objectives and facilitating implementation.
Collaborations that were successful prioritized three common characteristics: a shared “investment thesis” on how they intended to create impact, clear expectations for outcomes, and an established operational and leadership structure to meet the collaborative’s goals.
One clear opportunity exists to get more benefit from collaboratives for the partner organizations funded by coordinating application and grant processes. Organizations often ended up needing to apply and report to each individual funder involved in the collaborative’s work, using precious staff time and resources.
As the philanthropic sector has become more conscious that dollars are often not reaching leaders in community organizations best positioned to affect change, the study also examines how collaboratives are incorporating diverse perspectives into their work. Among the ideas for funders to consider: 1) establish definitions for diversity (and more broadly, equity and inclusion) among members and discuss implications in the work; 2) invite beneficiaries and those with diverse perspectives to participate; and 3) consider including an expert consultant to help the group navigate conversations and make progress.
Through our Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative at the Raikes Foundation, we’ve defined a set of principles and practices to guide donors who want to give with impact. One of the tenets that we strongly promote is to join forces with others. As collaborative philanthropy gains in popularity, this study reveals important lessons for those who build collaboratives to embrace. But the opportunity for donors is clear: giving together with others can deepen learning, accelerate impact, and build valuable relationships. Don’t go it alone!
Original contribution by Stephanie Gillis, Director, Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative, Raikes Foundation.
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