There Are Reasons Why More Funders Don’t Collaborate

As I’ve shared in past blogs, collaboration is in my blood. And yes, while I do believe that there is an over-emphasis on “working together,” I also believe that it can lead to really strong outcomes. And I believe that funders can – and should – lead by example. That is why I loved a recent article published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Barriers to Funder Collaboration and the Will to Overcome Them.”

I think the article, written by Phil Buchanan, makes some great points. Like nonprofits, funders need to demonstrate outcomes for all of their efforts. And it’s great to see that they are “walking the walk.” However, this makes collaboration more challenging since they cannot necessarily point to the fact that their investments are solely attributed to the outcomes they have achieved. And it’s definitely harder to be a “disrupter” in the nonprofit sector. It’s not impossible, but it’s not likely that an organization will become the next Airbnb, or the next Uber.

I’ve talked about the power dynamics in previous blogs. Regardless of how well intentioned a funder might be, or how willing they are to be an equal partner, that is not possible. Funders have something that nonprofits need: money, resources and access to other funders. Let’s just call out the pink elephant in the room.

Buchanan’s final point is the one that really hits home for me: leave the ego at the door! This is hard for a lot of people, regardless of what sector you’re in. We all want credit for doing good work. But really, isn’t it the end result that matters more than how much credit we get? I was working on a project last year where we, the funder, pulled all the other funders in the field together to share observations, themes, grantees, etc. To me, it was remarkable that these conversations hadn’t already been taking place on a regular basis. It was so clear that we were learning so much from one another! And yet – two years later, almost every single funder in that group is still making their own, siloed investments. To quote one of our infamous politicians, “Sad!”

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