A New Era for Foundation Collaboration

In the past, many foundations viewed collaboration as a speed bump.

Collaborations, after all, take time. When two or more organizations work together on any project, time must be spent up front setting ground rules, creating processes, and making compromises.

But at a time when many foundations are looking for creative ways to address the overlapping crises of COVID-19, racial injustice, and climate change, they are viewing collaboration much differently.

While it was once a nuisance, it is now a necessity.

Powered by technology and tools that make it easier than ever to communicate, manage data, and process and distribute funding, many foundations now see collaboration as a critical tool for accelerating – not delaying – their work.

In fact, it’s fair to say that we have entered a new era – one in which foundation collaborations are the rule rather than the exception.

Foundations are discovering that they cannot address immediate disasters or address long-term systems change without finding creative ways to combine their resources and build true partnerships with government, business, donors, and nonprofits.

Why Collaborate?

When foundations collaborate, the benefits are clear. Effective foundation partnerships:

  • Create opportunities to scale – When foundations join forces, they can concentrate resources to address issues at a larger scale than they can alone.
  • Improve processes – Through collaboration, foundations expose their program officers and other staff to colleagues at partner organizations who can show them new ways to approach their work.
  • Send strong signals – When foundations join forces to say they are going to invest in addressing a problem, they are making a statement to others that the problem deserves greater attention.
  • Encourage other partners to join – When other foundations, government, and the private sector see foundations working together on an issue they care about, they see value in adding their own resources to the effort. This can lead to even bigger partnerships and greater impact.
  • Lay the groundwork for future partnerships – Collaborations between foundations create trust – and they often help create the framework for more expansive joint efforts.

Common Types of Foundation Collaboration

Foundation collaborations can take several forms, including:

  • Peer-to-peer partnerships – The most common form of collaborations involve foundations working directly with other foundations that share a geography or issue area. For example, when COVID-19 shut down New York in March of 2020, dozens of private and family foundations joined forces with The New York Community Trust to collect and distribute more than $110 million to help those impacted by the pandemic through the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund.
  • Crosscommunity partnerships – Increasingly, foundations in different communities are finding ways to work together to share best practices around specific issues. An example is the Community Foundation Opportunity Network – a coalition of community foundations across the U.S. who are committed to narrowing the youth opportunity gap in their communities. These foundations share examples and ideas – and use what they learn from their peers in their own communities.
  • Government partnerships – Government is increasingly finding foundations to be effective partners as they work to mobilizing resources efficiently. New Hampshire, for instance, was one of several states that partnered with community foundations to effectively and efficiently direct CARES Act funding to communities impacted by COVID-19.
  • Business partnerships – Socially responsible companies also see value in collaborating with foundations – and many foundations have been more actively seeking out partnerships with companies that have a shared interest in improving communities. Facebook, for instance, has partnered with seven U.S. community foundations to distribute funds to help communities hit hard by COVID-19 and is also working with several large community foundations to advance racial equity efforts in large cities.

While collaboration is far from a new concept in philanthropy, it’s clear that the size and complexity of foundation partnerships is changing. Many of the examples cited above are mobilizing resources at a scale – and at a speed – that was uncommon prior to COVID-19.

New Collaboration Models Emerge

The Tax Equity Funders (formerly known as The Community Foundation Co-Op Fund) offers a new and promising example of how foundation collaboration is evolving to address pressing problems in creative ways.

The fund – announced in September– aims to help ensure that as many families as possible receive the full Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit benefits they are eligible for under federal legislation passed earlier this year. As many as 5 million U.S. families who are eligible to receive the credits do not file tax returns because they are not required to do so – which makes it difficult for the federal government to reach them.

The Community Foundation Co-Op Fund – which is supported by a number of private foundations, including the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as the Tax Equity Funders (formerly known as the EITC Funders Network), the Community Foundation Opportunity Network and CF Leads – all aim to work with community foundations to address this pressing problem.

Together, they are pooling resources to conduct outreach campaigns in partnership with local nonprofits to help families receive these valuable credits.

The challenge is complex – and foundations are working together creatively to attempt to address it.

We are also seeing examples of new collaboration models that aim to address longer-term issues.

Individually, community foundations across the U.S. are making bold commitments and taking strong steps to attempt to dismantle systemic racism and achieve equity in social and economic mobility in their communities.

But an emerging coalition of community foundations is swinging for the fences – working to create a new model for working to address a complicated problem.

These nine foundations are part of Nexus for Equity + Opportunity Nationwide (NEON) – an initiative of the Community Foundation Opportunity Network, which centers on working together in new ways to address an old problem. These nine foundations are each tackling systemic racism with focused approaches in their own communities while also committing to pursuing common strategies, sharing metrics, and replicating best practices.

Ultimately, this model has the potential to become a magnet for national foundations, large donors, and government as they look for ways to support programs that are making a difference in local communities.

Learn More About Foundation Collaboration

Looking for more information about foundation collaboration?

I recently partnered with Blackbaud to create a free whitepaper that provides more examples of collaboration in action and shows how technology will support this new era in grantmaking.