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
    Key Ingredients for an Effective and Healthy Funder Collaborative

    There are numerous approaches to funder collaboratives in the philanthropic community. From the experience of the Connect U.S. Fund, several ingredients are vital for success.

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  • Takeaways
    The Benefit of Funder Collaboratives

    There are many benefits offered to foundations participating in funder collaboratives, as well as to the fields they are seeking to support. While some of the upsides may be obvious, others are more subtle or unexpected and only emerge after years of experience. 

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  • 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.

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  • 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.”

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  • Takeaways
    Economic Downturn Impact

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

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  • 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.

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  • 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.”

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  • Takeaways
    What Funder Collaboratives Are and Aren’t

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

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  • Takeaways
    Types of Funder Collaboratives

    Funder collaboratives tend to fall into three broad types:

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  • 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.
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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.