Funder Collaborations – Flourish or Flounder?

Client: William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Given the complexities of changing education systems, funders regularly collaborate to leverage their influence, channel their funding and mobilize grantees in the same direction. But many well-intentioned collaborations fall short of expectations. So what actions and approaches might lead to more success?

In a recently published article in the journal The Foundation Review, we and our colleague Robert Medina, as well as Barbara Chow (former program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) attempt to answer that question. We reflect on our experience with a half-dozen joint funding efforts—including learning networks, pooled funds, technical assistance efforts and new nonprofits—all created to support the success of the Common Core State Standards. These experiences working to advance the same issue in different ways and with many of the same funders led us to reflect on why some of the collaborations flourished and some floundered.

The work of a collaboration shifts over time, raising different problems at each stage. We identified lessons we learned around key milestones where decisions (or lack of decisions) affected progress:

  • Get clear on goals, metrics, and problems to be solved in the beginning
  • When grantmaking starts, clarify how decisions will be made and how the collaboration can balance inclusiveness with action
  • Understand how well the collaboration is meeting its goals, when it has accomplished its work and how you know when it has outlived its usefulness

We think that recognizing these sticking points and tackling them explicitly can help more collaborations grow and mature into more powerful forces for improving U.S schools.

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