The alchemy of collaboratives

Share out from the Global Summit of Collaborative Funds
Collab Summit Group Picture
Bryan Patrick Photography

This past October in San Francisco, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Philanthropy Together co-hosted the first-ever Global Summit of Collaborative Funds. Close to 300 individuals came together for two days of learning and sharing lessons from across the field of collaborative philanthropy, including 112 collaborative funds from around the world, donors and institutional funders, and infrastructure organizations supporting collaboratives. The scale and scope of this convening points to an inflection point we see in the interest and impact of collaborative giving. Watch plenaries from the Summit.

“This is the opportunity of a generation to build a new type of philanthropy through collaborative funds—we must seize the moment, and not forget the people we are meant to be serving.”
COLAB Summit participant

Participants dove into the unique challenges and opportunities facing collaboratives and brainstormed on how to strengthen the field collectively. Across two days, more than 50 speakers held space on the hopes and challenges within this growing field, and everyone was invited into the conversation for shared learning and co-creation.

Here are 4 takeaways from the Global Summit of Collaborative Funds:

1. Collaborative philanthropy as a field is gaining momentum: 

“We weren’t sure if there was a collaborative ‘field’ before this event—the past two days were an emphatic yes!” 
Accelerator cohort
Photo by Bryan Patrick

For most people in the room, this was the first time being in a space solely dedicated to collaborative funds as a vehicle in philanthropy. Participants shared various names for their work: collaborative funds, intermediaries, donor collaboratives, social justice funds, regranters, pooled funds, feminist funds, and many other names. What united everyone was the underlying ethos and methodology that bringing an ecosystem of partners together in a key issue area—many donors or funders and many frontline social change organizations—can enable scaled impact that no funder or partner could have achieved alone. This first-ever Summit created space to share out about the wide spectrum of operating models, donor engagement strategies, and equity-aligned practices. Seeing the momentum was empowering and painted a new path forward for philanthropy, building on the rich legacy of women’s funds, community foundations, and other collaborative and collective giving approaches.

2. Collaboratives funds have a unique and complex role to play:

“Running a collaborative fund is extremely complex: collaborative leaders need to be highly skilled and relational. Amazing at fundraising, grant making, financial management, centering community, policy, and so much more.”
favi holding posters
Photo by Bryan Patrick

Collaboratives bring many approaches together under one roof, which looks very different from the standard dichotomy of givers and receivers of philanthropy. The work of collaboratives was often described as having an “alchemy” to the process with the powerful potential to shift norms in philanthropy on power and equity. Collaboratives shared about the donor learning journeys they host to push donor thinking and practice; others shared about the ecosystems of support they create for the organizations on the ground being funded; others shared about the long-term advocacy work they are able to push beyond what a single grantee might be able to achieve.   

3. Collaborative giving is appealing to donors, but telling the story of impact is difficult:

“We all struggle with telling our story of impact. How can we come together to share powerful stories that lead to systemic change?”
Happy Neera Akita
Photo by Bryan Patrick

Inherent in the complexity of collaborative funds is also a challenge of how to communicate about collaborative philanthropy to engage more donors to move money to the people and communities who need it. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation communications team shared early research insights about the strong appeal of “collaborative giving” to UHNW donors pointing to a big opportunity to tell the story of collaboratives in a bigger and bolder way to unlock giving, and participants co-crafted messaging they felt resonated most. More to come on those insights in the coming months.

4. Collaboratives want to collaborate—it’s in the name and DNA of this approach: 

“I realized that I am not alone in this field. I have so much to learn AND so much to share with peers trying to accomplish similar goals. I am energized by the momentum we are all building!”
Photo by Bryan Patrick

Given the unique nature of collaboratives, there was a strong desire to continue learning from one another. Bringing together funders and collaboratives and infrastructure groups under the same roof enabled many different viewpoints to surface about the power of this approach. Following the Colab Summit, an online community space formed to continue the conversation, which anyone from a collaborative fund around the world is able to join by filling out this form. As we often say—if you want to go far, go together.

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