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Tips on collaborating with other grantmakers

Pooling resources with other grantmakers can increase the overall impact of the collaboration and improve the knowledge, networks and reach of each partner. But collaboration can also cost a surprising amount of time and suck up a lot of resources. Grantmakers are advised to collaborate only after carefully gauging the likelihood of success.

What is collaboration?

Grantmaker collaboration can take many forms, including simply sharing ideas, information and expertise. It can involve grantmakers working in different geographic areas or combining two areas of expertise to help solve a problem.

A partnership is one particular form of collaboration. This report by the US Foundation Center defines a partnerhip as a collaboration that involves investment of money or other tangible resources.

What are the benefits?

A report by the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers - Local Donor Collaboration: Lessons from Baltimore and Beyond - identified five primary benefits of collaboration:

  • The ability to accomplish what cannot be done easily independently
  • The ability to learn and grow professionally and maximise grantmaking efficiencies
  • Levelling the playing field between larger and smaller funders
  • Broadening the network of colleagues available for support, connections and enriching learning
  • Increasing the freedom of grantmaking decisions and stretching areas of interest.

What are the challenges?

  • Competing priorities of different partners
  • Partners being biased towards particular grantees
  • Working with government, in particular, can feel unfamiliar
  • Working with collaborating grantmakers can be more demanding for grant recipients
  • The risk that grantmakers become more interested in collaborating to reduce administration costs than in collaborating in order to leverage resources
  • Lack of control over if and when someone leaves a partner organisation.

How do you know when it's right to collaborate?

Another report, Philanthropies Working Together: Myths and Realities by the Foundation Center, identified five conditions that create a suitable environment for collaboration:

  • the existence of strong personal relationships among staff
  • institutions are open to outside ideas
  • foundations' interests coincide
  • mutual respect between the foundations and appreciation of each other's complaints
  • staff turnover is low and organisational support is high.

How do you maximise the chance of success?

The Foundation Center report also gives some tips about when a partnership - a particular form of collaboration characterised by a formal relationship - is likely to succeed, finding that success is most likely when the partners are:

  • open about goals, interests and decision-making authority
  • willing to negotiate and accommodate
  • able to spend the time needed to work out the logistics
  • prepared to commit resources
  • ready to persevere through implementation.

And a guide published by GrantCraft, Working With Government, offers these tips:

  • If you're a private grantmaker considering a government partnership, try aiming to commence at the start of a government's term of office (the theory being that the collaboration will have at least a few years to run).
  • Learn how government operates, makes decisions and implements policies, and "apply the basic rules of good grantmaking, but do it with sensitivity to the circumstances of government."
  • Clearly establish objectives, roles, expectations and implementation processes at the outset. This can help everyone foresee risks, ensure the right people are involved and avoid misunderstandings.

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