“How do we build a really big tent with a lot of different perspectives working together, locking arms and taking a big initiative forward? It turns out that no one organization has all the best ideas and the idea of bringing people together in a big tent kind of way can often really be a leap forward, a swing for the fences kind of opportunity.” Jean Case, CEO, Case Foundation
On Feb 21, 2013, I attended Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) Strategic Co-funding Conference in Washington DC. The gathering was part of GEO’s Scaling What Works initiative, which connects grantmakers to practices that grow impact and build stronger and more effective nonprofit organizations.
The focus of this particular conference was exploring “co-funding.”
In brief, the idea of co-funding suggests that “what one grant or grantmaker can do alone pales in comparison to joining forces and funding with others…. [I]n order to maximize everyone’s resources and, ultimately, social impact, you must look outward to other funders and partners.”
As a small grantmaker that recognizes the need to collaborate with other funders, grantmakers, partners and our broad and diverse network to have social impact bigger than ourselves, this approach is very much of interest to us here at Maytree.
Approximately 140 grantmakers explored different approaches to strategic co-funding, to deepen their knowledge and advance their practice around key areas such as:
- building trust;
- developing joint strategies, goals and common processes (e.g., due diligence, reporting);
- coordinating with public systems, policy and funders; and
- collectively raising, administering and evaluating pooled grant dollars.
Practitioners presented a number of co-funding examples during the break-out sessions, including projects such as the California Civic Participation Project (CCEP).
Co-funding practitioners themselves presented their approaches and perspectives. Their “rapid fire” presentations dug deeper into the benefits that participating grantmakers and grantees realized, along with lessons learned, challenges and questions.
They presented three Co-Funding Models:
- Pooled Funding – where funders contribute to a collective fund, which may be jointly administered by the group or by a lead donor or third party
- Targeted Co-Funding – where funders deliberately but independently make grants to the same program, organization or issue
- Strategic Alignment – where funders agree to adopt joint or complementary strategies in pursuit of a common goal, and put their resources toward aspects of that strategy
The co-funding approach is perhaps best described by the Case Foundation’s Be Fearless project.
“Those of us charged with finding or funding solutions to social challenges – philanthropists, government, nonprofits – seem to be moving too slowly and often operating with the same set of tools, concepts, and caution of the generations before us. If we’re going to keep up with the rapid pace of change and the daunting complexities of these challenges, we must rethink traditional models. It’s time for us to be bold, act with urgency, and embrace risks with potential to produce exponential social returns. It’s time for us to Be Fearless!”
In his opening remarks Jim Canales of the Irvine Foundation noted that a move to co-funding requires three shifts in the way that grantmakers work:
- Impact – a grantmaker must think beyond attribution to contribution
- Culture – move from taking controlled risks to taking considered risks
- Leadership – leaders need to be engaged in collaborative, not person-focused, leadership
Watch Jim’s presentation:
Moving forward, practically
In the final plenary, Case Foundation CEO Jean Case and GEO President and CEO Kathleen Enright shared an insightful conversation about five principles of their Be Fearless project, directly related to a co-funding approach:
- Make Big Bets and Make History – set audacious, not incremental goals
- Experiment Early and Often – don’t be afraid to go first
- Make Failure Matter – failure teaches, learn from it
- Reach Beyond Your Bubble – while it’s comfortable to go it alone, innovation happens at intersections
- Let urgency conquer fear – don’t over think and analyze, do
- We’re better together: creating large scale change at Tamarack
- Backbone Support: Essential for Successful Collective Impact
(image: Lollyman, Working together…, March 11, 2010, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)