Integrating Interests

In 2002 and again in 2004, we were asked to make a presentation at national conferences about the experience of establishing a funders’ collaborative. My presentation in both cases included six points about collaboration. These six principles guided the Fund’s development for the first 10 years and promoted integrating the interests of all philanthropic partners.


  1. Even if the funding partners aren’t philosophically compatible in their own grant-making efforts, they must agree with the mission of the collaborative.

  • In our case, all funding partners need strong nonprofits in which they can invest.
  • At the Nonprofit Management Fund, all partners agreed that a focus on improving management or   governance  is considered a strength, not a weakness.

     

2. Funding partners must share common perceptions of the needs to be addressed by their collaborative efforts.

  • The infrastructure of many nonprofits needs to be developed in order to achieve their mission.
  • Resources to build capacity must be made available to nonprofits.

     

3. A track record of successful joint efforts should exist among the collaborating partners. However, even if there isn’t a history of working together, the collaborative will produce a list of successful accomplishments.

 

  • Some of the foundations in the Fund’s Collaborative worked together in the past on common interests (e.g., education, economic inequality, etc.), but none had been in a structured philanthropic partnership before the Fund.

  • A few major corporations connected with the Fund because of their broad commitment to the community.
  • United Ways were new additions to the funder mix, and like all partners, had to learn to play by the rules of the collaborative, rather than by their guidelines.


4. Partners must perceive benefits and/or see it in their self-interest to collaborate, and agree as to the nature of these benefits.

  • Funding partners can reach more nonprofits by pooling their dollars, as well as leveraging other funding.
  • The collaborative can fund all aspects of the nonprofit sector through the collaboration, although individual interests at their respective employers prevent funding some segments of the sector.

  • The Fund can add special expertise, i.e., Fund Advisors. 


5. The collaboration must ultimately produce tangible results for the grantees.

  • Grantees must be able to demonstrate improved organizational capabilities.

  • The overall capacity of grantees must be expanded.

  • As a result, grants made by the individual funding partners can be made with greater confidence.


6. Funding partners must be willing to share personal resources and information with the other participants if collaborative efforts are to be successful.


  • All of the funding partners must have trust in the group in order to have forthright discussions.

  • A la Las Vegas, the Fund adopted a policy on confidentiality regarding discussions of grantees—what was shared in a committee meeting, stayed at the committee meeting.

Another decade has passed since this list was compiled and I still agree with the points on the list. I just want to add another half dozen lessons that we’ve learned along the way, but

before I show you mine, I’d like you to show me yours.

What points would you add to the list?

3 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Alicia | May 08, 2014 at 11:45 AM EDT

I would like to know whether you and others think having experienced a successful collaboration through participation in the Fund has made partners more inclined to work with other partners or other non-participating funders outside the context of the Fund. In this case, I'm less focused on the Fund as a first-of-its-kind-model that could be emulated and more focused on a consideration of the habits of mind that the Fund may have caused partners to develop.

2. Pat | May 09, 2014 at 10:31 AM EDT

I totally agree that the Fund created a safe place for philanthropic friends, colleagues, and maybe even some adversaries, to meet on common ground and learn to trust each other enough to work together at first in the Fund and then venture beyond the Fund, With at least a few successful joint efforts behind closed doors, the door was then thrown open for newcomers and new partnerships throughout the community.

3. Scott Gelzer | June 09, 2014 at 07:46 PM EDT

Alicia:

I have been told repeatedly by several Fund partners that the Fund was a \door opener\ among several distinct groups of organizations that had not collaborated. I am speaking of funders who were partners.

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