Get Your Fellow Funders to the Table

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of ASF

Many small-staff foundations are looking to funder collaboratives as a way to leverage resources and work on a larger scale. Some come together to learn, others to align grants for publicity and impact, and yet others to pool funds. How are they finding collaborators, and what are they learning about how to succeed?

The ASF member Jim and Carol Trawick Foundation in Bethesda, MD, formed a funder collaborative in 2010 when it invited three local funders to contribute $30K each and participate in the decision making for one of its initiatives.

“It was the smaller foundations like us that were more open to collaboration,” says President Carol Trawick. She could reach the decision makers of these foundations right away, and she found they can move quickly without a lot of organizational structure in the way.

Yet the burning question is this: How do you get other funders to the table? 

It doesn’t work to start a collaborative for the sake of collaborating, says Trawick. There has to be a bigger reason to work together.

“You can’t just ask someone to pool money. You have to give them something to invest in,” she says. “I was able to show other funders a successful strategy and project, and give them the chance to invest in something they could get behind.”

The secret is also finding your perfect “mission mate,” she says—another foundation that believes in your mission.

What makes for a successful collaborative?

  • Plan carefully. Talk with others who have collaborated successfully. Include the organizations you aim to serve in your planning process. Reach group consensus on expectations of time, money, and participation.
  • Build relationships thoughtfully. The trust and personal bonds among funders can be key factors. Like any meaningful relationship, these take time to nurture.
  • Hire someone to help you. Collaboration is a complex mix of money, personalities, strategic thinking, and opportunities. Designate someone neutral to drive the process—a staff person or a consultant who knows how to do this. See ASF’s Professional Directory of Foundation Advisors
  • Choose a neutral place to park any money. Your neutral place may be a community foundation, or one of the funders who agrees to separate grant management from grant selection.
  • Pool more than funds. Even with a pooled fund, consider what, beyond money, each funder brings to the table, such as connections, media relationships, skills, and expertise.
  • Use online tools to streamline the process. One collaboration uses OneHub.com, a shared online workspace that allows partners to send and edit documents without long e-mail chains back and forth.
  • Share the credit. Be willing to share recognition with other funders, and sometimes not receive any recognition at all.
  • Give people an out. Be clear upfront that collaboration is voluntary, and that participants can go elsewhere if they wish.

Three more collaboratives: The Bravewell Collaborative, The Nonprofit Management Fund, Environmental Education Funders Collaborative

Related resources

ASF’s resources on collaborative funding (for members)
Not an ASF member? Learn more and join today

CONNECT, ASF’s 3-day conference for small-staff philanthropy, October 1–3, with strategy salons on collaboration and much more

Funder Collaboratives: Why and How Funders Work Together, from GrantCraft

Elaine GastElaine Gast Fawcett helps foundations tell their story, educate their stakeholders, and move their mission forward. For 12 years, she has worked nationally to strengthen the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors as a communications and grantmaking consultant. Originally from the Maryland/DC area, Elaine now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Ted and toddler Scarlett. Reach Elaine at elaine@fourwindswriting.com or on Twitter @4WindsWriting.

3 thoughts on “Get Your Fellow Funders to the Table

  1. Pingback: To Our Contributors, Thank You | PhilanthroFiles

  2. Pingback: Q & A With an Experienced Collaborator | PhilanthroFiles

  3. Pingback: Key Questions for Collaborators | PhilanthroFiles

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