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Collaborating With Others

Collaboration is an increasingly hot topic among philanthropists. Its benefits are clear: more money for causes that require big investments. Cost efficiencies due to shared strategy development or due diligence. Coordinated action on problems that cross sectors and are beyond the capacity of any single player to solve. Access to networks and specialized skills that any individual donor may not have on staff. "If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together,” says Steve Case, quoting an African proverb to illustrate this point.   

A number of the philanthropists we interviewed describe the successes of their collaborations, including the development of the 911 emergency services system, the expansion of a charter school network from two to 125 schools nationwide, and the public recognition and awareness of autism. While these are just a few examples that illustrate the fruits of collaboration, many of the philanthropists we interviewed are finding that collaborating with others—whether with other donors, grantees and beneficiaries, or government—is a key component of effective philanthropy.

In partnership with other donors, some of our interviewees pool funds to finance “big bets” on organizations or initiatives beyond their individual reach. They pool expertise to work across increasingly complex domains more effectively. Such donor-to-donor collaboration also leads to shared strategies and due diligence and, in turn, to more efficient grantmaking.

In terms of collaborating with grantees, the philanthropists we interviewed describe how establishing trusted relationships and working to define success together can be important to achieving greater results. Some donors are compelled to provide more flexible funding, such as covering overhead and making unrestricted grants. Their intent is to give nonprofits the leeway to adapt their strategy as needed, to develop nonprofit leaders, and to identify quickly what works (or doesn’t) in order to course correct, if necessary, and stay on track.  

Collaborating with government is becoming an increasingly important strategy as well. Some philanthropists we interviewed apply themselves to helping nonprofits attract government funding, or work to mend a broken political process. Others are even investing in government itself, to improve government’s ability to serve citizens or make efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Regardless of the form collaboration takes, the philanthropists we interviewed are clearly seeing its critical role in effecting change. As Nancy Roob of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation reflects, “We're too small. Even the largest philanthropists today are too small in relationship to the really serious problems that we have in the world.”