How to encourage collaboration

Beth Cohen

Synergos’s Global Philanthropists Circle (GPC) is a network of about 200 participants from more than 70 philanthropic families from every part of the world who are committed to addressing poverty and social injustice. Recently, we conducted interviews with 12 members to learn how they have been, or might be, influenced to be more collaborative in their philanthropy. The interviewees were selected to represent various philanthropic approaches, issue areas, countries and regions of interest, and ages. They were evenly split between women and men.

Exposure to the practice of collaboration
Several participants indicated that simply being exposed to collaborative practice has influenced their work. After listening to a presentation on cross-sector partnerships by a renowned development expert, for example, a Peruvian philanthropist who had previously avoided working with government said he was convinced such a partnership would help take his educational initiatives to scale.

Meeting others with common interests and goals
The majority expressed a desire to find additional ways to engage with other philanthropists through working groups, networking and peer education. Some requested facilitated introductions to potential partners from other sectors, including community-based organizations, which bring complementary skills and resources to the table.

Exposure to role models and best practices
A number of participants emphasized the influence of stories of role models and experts. At a recent GPC gathering, for example, Bill Gates Sr said frankly: ‘As with so many of you, we’re working on things we don’t understand at all, and there wouldn’t be any hope of our getting anything done, really, unless we involved others in the work.’ GPC members interviewed cited the power of comments like this to motivate them by example.

Receiving technical support and know-how
Participants requested help in identifying appropriate partners, brokering relationships with them, developing suitable ways to engage in strategic planning with collaborators, and with evaluation methodologies. Said one, ‘Now I’m convinced; how do I actually do it?’ The entry points and dynamics of collaboration are not easy or obvious, and most need help navigating this terrain.

Many individual philanthropists are looking for opportunities to collaborate across organizations and sectors to achieve greater impact. Although Synergos interviewed only a small sample, their comments suggest four approaches to promoting greater philanthropic collaboration. Adding private philanthropists to the partnership table is both a challenge and an opportunity. They often have affiliations across sectors and are not typically identified as a major stakeholder when partnerships are formed. They may, however, be uniquely positioned both to provide critical resources to advance the purpose of the partnership and to play an important bridging role among the partners representing business, government and civil society.

Beth H Cohen is Senior Director, Global Philanthropists Circle, Synergos Institute. Email

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