Collaboration: Everyone wants it, few funders practice it.

A few years ago, a community foundation engaged me to help launch a new fund. After I helped think through the right grantmaking focus I asked when we would be joining the conversations with the other funders supporting this work, conversations I assumed must be happening.

It turned out my assumptions were wrong. Despite the fact that many local funders were supporting this same topic area, they rarely talked with each other. There simply wasn’t a conversation to join.

So we started one.

I convened meetings where I shared the themes I had heard in my environmental scan, and the gaps we identified and the work that we were considering supporting. I asked our funder colleagues to share their experiences, and they did – eventually. The key was to create an environment where they felt comfortable sharing what they had done right, what they had learned, and the mistakes they had made along the way.

By starting the conversation, we enabled collaboration. We avoided duplication of funding and focused on funding needs that wouldn’t otherwise have been addressed. 

At one of the initial meetings, one of my colleagues said, “Thank you for being so open and vulnerable. It’s really helpful for us to learn from you.” All I could think to myself was, “How could we not share this with you?”

It’s not enough just to embrace collaboration as a concept.   It takes skill to build a space where collaboration can happen, where we can be vulnerable and honest with each other, and where together we can do our best work.

What collaboration can I build for you?