Only Funders Can Change Their Own Behavior

When airlines first started introducing Wi-Fi on planes many years ago, I loathed the idea. I appreciated the quiet, uninterrupted time to read, respond to emails that wouldn’t be sent until we landed, and update my “to do” list. Now I am the opposite: I loathe the announcement, “We’re sorry, but our Wi-Fi is not working on this flight. We’ve tried rebooting it, but to no avail.” Despite being told this information, I can’t help but try to log on…just in case it decides to suddenly start working! (It never does.)

I begrudgingly found myself on a flight last week without Wi-Fi. The good news is that I was able to catch up on some reading, and I was finally able to dive into GEO’s latest report, “Is Grantmaking Getting Smarter?” I took so many notes that I may have to write several blogs to share all of my thoughts. But I’ll start with my latest mantra: funder collaboration.

The report states that 47% of grantmakers believe it’s very important that nonprofits must collaborate and 32% believe that it is moderately important. And while just under three-quarters of funders say they collaborate with other funders, most, according to a recent Center for Effective Philanthropy study, do not think that they are particularly good at collaboration. In fact, their lack of collaboration is seen by funders as a barrier to their ability to make progress.

Ahhhh! This drives me nuts! Most funders believe they can do better by collaborating. It’s in their power to make it happen. But most don’t – or if they do, they admittedly don’t do it well. I recently pressed a foundation leader about this and he admitted that his entity wants to be recognized for the impact of its investment. They want a “if – then” scenario: “If we invest in eradicating homelessness, then we will be able to attribute our good work to the outcome.”

On the one hand, I get it: If I was investing millions of dollars to achieve a critical impact, I would likely appreciate some recognition. But no one can solve social problems on their own. The old adage stands: “It takes a village.” And when you’re talking about systems change, as is often the case, it takes thousands of villages to achieve success.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about pooling funds or releasing joint Calls for Proposals. I’d like to see meaningful conversations among funders so that they learn from one another, share critical information, identify gaps that need to be addressed in the community and brainstorm possible solutions. I don’t think that that is too difficult. I just wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

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