Philanthropists from families, foundations and businesses are asking, “Can’t we accomplish more by working collectively instead of in silos?”
In “Strategic Co-Funding: An Approach for Expanded Impact,” a new report published by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and REDF, the authors assert, “Strategic co-funding is a key way grantmakers of all types and sizes can expand the impact of their grants, leverage knowledge and resources … and reduce administrative burdens on themselves and grantees.”
One of the best examples of effective co-funding is the Civil Marriage Collaborative, which pools resources of money and expertise from different donors seeking to strengthen a state-by-state movement for same-sex couples’ freedom to marry across the United States. CMC members jointly fund $2 million annually for research, education and organizing around marriage equality and have worked patiently for years to understand and educate about the values that cause people to embrace their goal.
The CMC has “been a major player in every state where marriage equality has been secured,” says Andrew Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation, a funder for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. Paul Di Donato, the program officer responsible for organizing the CMC, says the collaborative allows disparate funders “to develop a shared strategy which is recalibrated annually to create a sharper vision about what can be achieved. The sum is greater than the parts.”
Matt Foreman, director of gay- and immigrant-rights programs for the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a CMC donor, observes, “Frequently, funders working in the same area of interest have different resources and approaches, so there’s little synergy in their work. The co-funding model brings funders together to enable them to achieve more impact than they could on their own.”
Tim Sweeney, president of The Gill Foundation, another CMC funder, notes, “It has been necessary for CMC members to make long-term commitments and be willing to suffer defeats along the way in order to achieve the dream of equality. We had to learn how to lose forward.”
Ultimately, “it isn’t only about politics, lobbying and laws,” he says. “It has been about changing hearts and minds.”
Collaborative funding has its challenges, too. In addition to more accountability than independent funders are accustomed to, Foreman states that the funding model requires “patience, compromise and the willingness to accept little or sometimes no credit for successes.”
The model helps not only grantmakers but also nonprofit grantees, giving them a single point of access to multiple funders and enabling them to share lessons learned by grantors and grantees alike.
Other examples of impactful collaborative-funding initiatives include the New Americans Citizenship Collaboration, encouraging and assisting eligible legal permanent residents to become U free project management app.S. citizens; the Four Freedoms Fund, securing the full integration of immigrants as active participants in our democracy; the Challenge Fund for Journalism (.pdf), helping independent, nonprofit media organizations strengthen fundraising capacity; and the Just and Fair Schools Fund, working to eliminate harsh school-discipline policies and practices.
From giving circles in neighborhoods to national funding collaboratives, donors are recognizing that they can learn from one another and have more impact on their favorite causes by pooling funds and resources, adjusting their philanthropic egos and solving problems together. Sweeney advises, “If you have a major ambition to be the change you want to see in the world, your best option is to find partners that are willing to be flexible, take a big risk and dream big.”
Nonprofit of the month
More than 800 women across metro Denver experience homelessness on any given night, and fewer than 150 shelter beds are available. They are alone, isolated and vulnerable. Founded in 2000, The Delores Project provides a place like home for about 500 women each year where they are welcomed and find food, warmth, safety and an opportunity to dream of a new future. Learn more at thedeloresproject.org.
Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic adviser, helping families, businesses and foundations with their philanthropic initiatives.