Funder Collaboratives: Why and How Funders Work Together

by Anne Mackinnon; Cynthia Gibson

Jan 1, 2010

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.

Funder Collaboratives: Why and How Funders Work Together
  • Functionally, funder collaboratives tend to fall into three broad categories: learning networks, strategic alignment networks, and pooled funds.
  • Most funder collaboratives have these characteristics: information sharing, opportunities to leverage and maximize resources, mutually developed structure and guidelines for operation, and attention to systemic solutions.
  • The benefits of funder collaboratives according to grantmakers are scale and efficiency, learning, strength in numbers, and non-financial resources.
  • The challenges of funder collaboratives according to grantmakers are control, credit, time and energy, institutional shifts, and interpersonal tensions.
  • Intermediaries’ biggest contribution is the expertise they bring to bear when helping grantees engage in effective advocacy campaigns, communicate their messages and missions, and build their organizational capacity. Some intermediaries also bring grantees and members of different collaboratives together when they have overlapping interests for field-building, policy reform, or research.
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