How to make your funder collaboration a success


Kris Putnam-Walkerly


Four best practices for effectively partnering with other funders

Philanthropists often expect nonprofits to collaborate, but they less frequently turn that expectation on themselves. Yet there is tremendous opportunity to exponentially expand the impact of your grantmaking through funder collaboration.

Foundations and individual philanthropists can collaborate with all types of entities, including other local, state or national foundations; donor-advised funds; businesses; universities; other individuals; funder networks; government agencies; and nonprofits, to name just a few. No matter whom you choose to join in collaboration, there are four things you can do to ensure that collaboration will be a success.

The four best practices for effectively partnering with other funders:

1. Communicate early and often. 
Lack of communication can prevent your funding collaborative from getting off the ground. I once asked a funder why they were not participating in a large local initiative, and the vice president explained that she didn’t understand the goals or theory of change. In the big picture, you need to clearly communicate the goals and strategy. And you can do this best if you have a plan for keeping each other in the loop, documenting decisions and communicating with external partners.

2. Set clear expectations.
Funding partnerships can be as simple as making a grant and as complex as foundation staff taking leadership roles as champions, policy advocates and steering committee members. Further, different funders might play different roles in your effort, depending on their areas of expertise. Discuss these expectations at the beginning and throughout the partnership—roles may evolve as needed.

3. Don’t go off mission.
Your foundation has a mission and hopefully some goals you want to accomplish. Your partnerships with other funders should help you advance your goals, not take you off course. You don’t want to jump on the bandwagon because others are collaborating. Take time to weigh the opportunity against your existing priorities to determine whether it’s the right fit. There are exceptions—when disaster strikes your town, it doesn’t matter whether you normally fund the arts or education; you want to band together to help people in need.

4. Keep it simple.
Funders seeking to collaborate should strive to make the complex simple, rather than the simple complex. I once received a Request for Proposal for a consultant from two foundations that were partnering to support early childhood education. The RFP itself was full of unnecessary expectations and legalese. It took 19 pages to explain how to submit a 10-page proposal. They gave themselves three months to write the RFP but allowed the consultants only two weeks to apply. This was a sneak peek at a funder collaboration that was unnecessarily complex, and I wanted no part of it.

Collaborations happen in many different ways, but all collaborations should leverage the strengths of each partner to achieve a common goal.

For a more in-depth look at a funder collaboration, download the free white paper 5 Best Practices of Extraordinary Grantmakers.

Kris Putnam Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and founder of Putnam Consulting Group

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