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Surviving to Thriving: Funder Collaboratives that Matter

Funders who focus on improving education outcomes do so because they recognize the essential contribution public schools play in creating a more just and inclusive society, a competitive workforce and a functioning democracy. Although some students excel in U.S. schools, too many others experience an ossified, inequitable system that fails to provide the opportunities, resources and options they need for success. And most often, the students not wellserved are those from families and communities with fewer resources, those with learning or language differences, and/or those who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color.

However, philanthropic efforts to catalyze innovations in education and advance racial equity have met with mixed success. It turns out that changing a system designed a century ago, with archaic rules and rife with politics, is hard work!

To better match the magnitude of the challenge, some education funders have achieved more exponential impact by pooling resources, sharing insights and leveraging the collective power and influence of the group. They join together as a funder collaborative—a cooperative structure that, according to one definition, leverages “expertise, relationships, and money together in a way that will produce results for society beyond the reach and capacity of any single donor.” While funder collaboratives hold the promise of achieving greater impact compared to working alone, working together across different organizations requires effort, and collaboratives must be thoughtfully constructed and managed.

To help more funders work together successfully, Education First produced this unique guide. Unlike other resources, it draws on more than 15 years of direct experience designing, leading and studying funder collaboratives. We have facilitated more than 15 education-specific collaboratives and engaged more than 90 foundations to bring new attention, resources and solutions to challenges as diverse as bilingual education, implementation of learning standards, highquality assessment, educator development and postsecondary access.

When well organized and facilitated, funder collaboratives have the potential to deepen relationships, advance collective knowledge, activate more resources and accomplish more than when funders act alone. This guide aims to help funders harness this power.

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