Fay Twersky and Lindsay Louie of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation were stumped. Less than a year into forging a coalition of funders that was briskly moving grants out the door, they realized that they might have a flaw in their approach to fostering change. The collaborative they helped to create, Fund for Shared Insight, aimed to help funders and nonprofits become more effective by listening intently to the people they strove to help—their end users.

Twersky, Louie, and Fund for Shared Insight’s story of finding simplicity on the other side of this complexity—of collaborating with other funders not to scale a proven approach, but to design a solution with nonprofits and their end users that could be adopted far and wide—is fairly unique in the world of philanthropy.

For one, the collaborative has knit itself together with uncommon principles. Whereas many collaboratives have a lead funder whose staff manages meetings, Shared Insight has an independent structure with its own dedicated staff. Its funders share leadership with equal voice, despite unequal stakes. And they buy into cultural norms such as talking out differences and engaging deeply and in person with grantees. Shared Insight gets outside perspective in real time, embedding an evaluator at each funder meeting who holds up the funders’ theory of change and flags both adherence and drift.

Shared Insight has granted $21.1 million and counts 78 funders collaborating with 184 nonprofits to develop and test a signature feedback tool that by 2020 any nonprofit with a SurveyMonkey account should be able to use.

Finally, Shared Insight’s theory of change itself is audacious: It seeks to build the core capacity we all have to listen, empathize, and respond into a norm that meaningfully connects nonprofits, foundations, and the people and communities they seek to help.

Read the full article about funding feedback by Katie Smith Milway at Stanford Social Innovation Review.