The philanthropy industry isn’t touted as fast-paced. It’s a fractured network that’s existed for thousands of years – supporting various societies throughout history. But philanthropy is changing as a swell of funding collaboratives knit together worldwide. As we continue to make strides towards improving industry collaboration, foundations are walking the talk and collaborating more deeply with each other to affect years-long (sometimes even permanent) change. They’re joining forces, pooling funds, forming important relationships throughout the sector – all in the name of wider and more immediate impact.
And yes, these pooled funds don’t always work, but many argue that the lessons learned and long-term impact produced far outweigh the pitfalls. Consider the level of transparency it takes for several foundations to formally admit that an initiative they had invested in simply wasn’t progressing as quickly as they thought, or even failed. How often did we see these kinds of admissions back in the 1980’s? Not often enough.
Forming Epic Partnerships
We see the forming of funding collaboratives as epic partnerships, a term coined by authors Jane Leu, Vu Le, and Jessamyn Shams-Lau in their new book – Unicorns Unite: How nonprofits and foundations can build EPIC Partnerships. And while they were focused on the relationships between grantmakers and grantees, the same principles apply when funders converge upon a problem. Expanded funds open doors for long-term capacity-building resources for grantees, and are essential when aiming to tackle projects that will require millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers such as: statewide efforts for a fair and accurate 2020 census count, Get Out The Vote efforts leading up to every major election, and Opportunity Zone funding that aims to radically change sprawling low-income cities and districts.
These collaboratives enable donors to connect with a host of new grantees they may have previously been unaware of. And grantees now have countless additional funders who are more willing to examine their proposals.
The whole goal of resource alignment is to move things along quickly and funding collaboratives make this possible. Look at the Knight Foundation’s recent collaborations to preserve local news. Without a coordinated effort from the Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, ProPublica, Report for America, and the American Journalism Project (to name a few) much of local news which is now largely supported by grants, especially in rural communities, would cease to exist. And make no mistake, local news and quality journalism will be essential in order to properly inform and prepare the citizens that census and voting groups aim to connect with in 2020. Collaborative initiatives feed other collaborative work.
Without coordination and collaboration among funders, burden and effort is thrown back onto the backs of time-strapped grantees. Grantees are left to jostle and apply for smaller grants that funders stipulate must be spent promptly, with no guarantee of renewal. And as we know, often these grants cost just as much to apply for as they're worth. The system needs to change – now. These inconsistencies are why many nonprofits wind up hanging on by a thread, and why many funders continue to feel concern as the work they fund doesn’t seem to produce as much impact as they had hoped.
We admire the grantmakers who have taken advantage of these ready-made structures in order to coordinate in ways that otherwise might not be possible. We hope to see more funding collaboratives appear in the future as funders band together to compare notes, share research, and coordinate deeply to support the grantees whose work they hope will stand the test of time.
Philanthropy can often feel like trying to wade through quicksand. Social and economic problems can pile up faster than we can fight them on our own. Funding collaboratives may just be the lifeline that pulls us out.
Do you have a story of collaboration that you would like to inform others of and share? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured on our blog.