In April 2020, Schmidt Futures took COVID-19 as an opportunity, organizing more than 200 people (mostly staff from institutional philanthropies) to meet the moment. Eight groups formed to address a particular need resulting from the pandemic, including a technology working group of large institutional foundations that sought to build an online infrastructure that could enable donors to share information about specific, vetted giving opportunities, learn from other stakeholders, and coordinate to fund immediate needs or even co-invest. Recognizing the potential of this online tool to function as a sustained collaboration platform between institutional and individual funders—a relatively groundbreaking development for the sector—the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provided pilot funding for the development and execution of this pilot effort, known as the COVID-19 Philanthropy Commons, which was launched in September 2020.

The work began by building the digital infrastructure. After careful vetting, the Commons co-leads selected CapShift as back-end website developer and partner to expediently build the COVID-19 Philanthropy Commons to be a platform that would work with philanthropic and financial institutions to mobilize capital to impact investments. By September, the site was ready for a soft launch and consisted of standard features, including a personalized login page, a dashboard where funders could view saved organizational profiles, and a filter option that allowed users to sort funding opportunities by topic or geography. Users could browse through each funding opportunity, gleaning high-level information about the organization seeking funding, planned activities, and a section about intended impact. Users could see which Commons member submitted the opportunity and then be put in touch directly with the nonprofit.

Despite the ease of the platform itself, the lack of compatibility with users’ existing grants management systems created a barrier to a streamlined opportunity submission process. What’s more, there was no ability for users to interact with each other, which limited all opportunities for community building among members.

Due to the suboptimal response to the Philanthropy Commons, the pilot concluded without intentions to make it a permanent institution. Its short tenure did, however, generate useful insights about what better tools for philanthropic coordination should look like.

Read the full article about learnings on philanthropic coordination by Melissa Stevens and Greg Tananbaum at Stanford Social Innovation Review.