If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the moment when writing a few checks to support various causes no longer feels sufficient. Perhaps you’ve realized that an issue you care about demands greater focus and commitment, and you have some sense of how philanthropic resources could play an important role. At this point, whether you are an individual donor, couple, family, foundation trustee, or even head of a company, you’ve probably wondered the following:
“How do I uncover funding opportunities that are most likely to create real and lasting change?”
“Is my money, time, or other resources being spent as effectively as possible?”
“How can I possibly help tackle a complex, seemingly intractable issue?"
The good news is that donors of all sizes and types have unique strengths to build upon. When nimble, curious donors come together as peers to learn and tackle issues of mutual concern collaboratively, those partnerships can lead to development of informed and creative strategies that power real, deep, and lasting change. Take, for example, the work of the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York in response to the crises of 2020, which we recently highlighted on the TPI blog.
Collaboration sounds great in concept, but partnering with others can be fraught with challenges and tensions. The good news is that there is a growing body of knowledge and experience that can help funders find meaningful ways to work together towards shared philanthropic goals. Let me share a brief overview of donor collaboration essentials, pulled from TPI’s primer, Donor Collaboration: Power in Numbers.
Types of Donor Collaborations: Least to Most Structured
Donor collaborations can take many forms – learning collaboratives, giving circles, pooled funds, and more. You can determine a level of collaboration based on your needs. It may be you need to find or create an information exchange or do some co-learning on a topic. If you find like-minded donors, you then might deepen the discussion to create an informal or formal strategic alignment, bringing together knowledge as well as financial resources. In some situations, this preliminary work can pave the way for joint funding commitments, either through targeted co-funding or pooled funding, depending on preferences for autonomy. Finally, you can create hybrid networks, as we illustrate in the primer with the example of the San Diego Workforce Funders Collaborative, which came together in a formal strategic alignment and offered both pooled and aligned grants to support the region’s workforce needs.
Pros and Cons of Donor Collaboration
Involvement in funder collaboratives can give donors access to information and new strategy ideas, to opportunities that might be out of reach otherwise, and to more efficient use of resources and sharing of risks. Some donor collaborations go even further and wield the power of partnerships for greater long-term impact by building public awareness of critical issues, influencing public policy, or even supporting and strengthening social movements.
There can also be significant challenges. As you might guess, the more partners that are involved, the more complex the process can be. Finding clarity around common purpose and taking the extra time to understand what drives each partner and to communicate well, especially as you create ground rules and develop strategies, can help to make sure any sacrifice in autonomy is outweighed by the opportunity for greater impact and synergy.
What does a model successful donor collaboration look like?
In our experience, there are some important elements that can make all the difference in the success of donor collaborations. First, they often have a passionate champion (or co-champions). Whether you envision this role for yourself or you want one that is more supportive, champions spearhead the direction of the work. They are often the face of the effort and help draw new members and partners. Successful collaborations also are usually adept at finding important gaps or other unique opportunities and doing work that is exciting and innovative. Those involved bring together different perspectives and knowledge and the group is inclusive rather than exclusive in nature. Successful collaborations also know if they are in it for the long haul; they need to be practical around issues of stability, like staffing and operational needs. Above all, the group is comfortable, interactive, allows itself time to do the job right, and is built, ultimately, on trusting relationships. The partners’ desire for social impact is the primary focus, not the partners themselves.
The TPI primer offers greater detail on each of these variables, as well as examples of successful collaborations, what it takes to join or launch such an effort, and other factors to consider. With 32 years of experience with many forms of funder collaboration, TPI has helped donors answer a wide range of questions. For those who are looking for this type of engagement, we offer a few guideposts to keep in mind:
- Done right, the shared resource approach of donor collaborations is a great way to find significant funding opportunities and tackle complex issues.
- Your resources can be absolutely critical in supporting well-designed partnerships that are positioned to achieve lasting impact.
- And finally, there truly is power in numbers – your willingness to play a part in a funding community in search of effective solutions may be more essential than you think.
If TPI can help you think through what is possible for you or your giving strategy, download our free primer Donor Collaboration: Power in Numbers or give us a call. We’re here to help.
(Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash)