In 2014, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation assembled 12 of the country’s leading funders focused on early childhood development into a new collaborative. We set sail on our journey with a lofty goal: to move beyond our separate, funder-by-funder pursuit of incremental approaches to boost kindergarten readiness for all children, and instead, invest collectively in a few big ideas — ideas that were showing promise but had not yet been taken to scale.

Despite the longstanding relationships and deep trust that brought these funders together, after two years of meetings, we found ourselves stalled. We had launched the collaborative after concluding we couldn’t count on the public sector to simply adopt our individual organizations’ recommendations for improvements to early childhood policy and practice. We knew we had to work together on models or practices that could translate into widespread impact. Yet we still had not chosen which investments to pursue, nor the steps necessary to bring our plans to fruition. We weren’t sure how to proceed. One of us, Meera, bluntly asked the group at this pivotal moment, “Should we stop meeting?”

Fast forward 18 months from then, and we have pooled $26 million to pursue high-potential bets in two areas: 1. strengthening the early childhood workforce of teachers and other professional caregivers; and 2. changing the standard of care in pediatric well child visits to improve child social emotional outcomes. We have collectively invested much more in these strategies than any one of us would have on our own. Some of our members chose not to invest in either the workforce or pediatric initiatives, as these investments represented too great a departure from their individual strategies and grantmaking approaches. Yet they still wanted to be at the table, which expanded to include new partners, and the full group continues to work on identifying additional areas for collaboration.

How did we get unstuck and move forward on a new, faster, and ultimately productive course? Looking back, we see an example of a collaborative continuously evolving its methods to achieve its original overarching goal.

Read the full article about a funder collaborative by Meera Mani and Janet Froetscher at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.