Giving Compass' Take:

• Elaine Katz, Senior VP of Grants and Communications at the Kessler Foundation, discusses collaborative funding as an increasingly popular and practical option for funders.

• How might public/private partnerships help scale programs? There's a call here for more risk-takers.

• Read more about building a collaborative culture from inspiration to application.

The recent great recession that strained philanthropic financial resources and the nonprofit organizations they support, has paved new avenues for collaboration. Today, we are seeing more models (i.e. learning networks, funder syndicates, and venture models), that highlight collaborative funding as an increasingly popular and practical option for funders as a means of impact philanthropy.

When the Kessler Foundation board refocused its grantmaking program in 2005 on increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, program staff needed to explore ways to maximize its small grantmaking budget of $2.5 million in order to influence growth in a meaningful way.

Public/private partnerships and shared funding models became a priority.  Accordingly, we sought out innovative pilots or demonstration projects to provide proof of concept. If successful, these programs could be scaled into a larger corporate or public programs to increase employment.

In collaborative funding, one organization often takes the lead. Partners, therefore, must have trust in one another’s ability to lead efficiently and fairly. Fluid communication, understanding, trust, and goodwill are vital to success. For example, it is common practice for partners to share opportunities for speaking engagements and media placements. Setting egos aside to share the front stage is a gesture of mutual respect that will engender a healthier relationship long-term.

The beauty of this approach is that it increases opportunities to leverage resources and aids for the development of a learning network, where partners can share valuable information and systematic solutions. Having participated in several collaboratives, I can foresee the potential impact of shared funding on improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities. When collaborations succeed, projects certainly have a greater impact. The collective effects of collaborative projects can move the needle on employment on the national level.

Looking at the past few years, public/private partnerships represent a welcome shift in the business of grantmaking. Despite these advances, however, many programs still depend on unidimensional models that fail to produce perceptible change. Put simply, the sector needs more: more drivers; more partnerships; more visionaries; more risk-takers.

Read more about strategic collaboration and impact philanthropy by Elaine Katz at GrantCraft.