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The powerful potential of philanthropic collaboration

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The powerful potential of philanthropic collaboration

Feb 24, 2021

From information sharing to pooling funding and participating in complex networks, donor-to-donor collaboration can pave the way for strategic action and greater impact.

Philanthropists set out to make a difference in the world, and there’s never been a more important time for philanthropy to play a critical role in addressing the challenges we’re facing: climate change, poverty, racial injustice and the coronavirus pandemic, to name a few.

Donors are therefore increasingly considering opportunities to collaborate with one another to maximise impact, reduce duplication, support innovation and drive progress on must-solve issues.

"Many philanthropists are exploring ways, big or small, to work with other donors to accelerate change," says Dorothy Chan, Head of Philanthropy Services and Advisory, Asia Pacific, HSBC Private Banking. 

"Even where a philanthropist has identified an area of interest, there are multiple intervention points to think about," Chan explains. If their goal is to reduce plastic in the ocean, for example, is it best to try to alter business practice, consumer behaviour or policy? Insight from other donors can help guide their strategy, and coordinating efforts could make the most of available resources.

Engagement with grantees, beneficiaries and/or intermediaries will always be at the heart of strategic philanthropy: funders are able to learn from those closest to the work being done and assess whether the organisations they support are delivering services that are valued. This sort of partnership also creates a productive, equitable working relationship between funders and grant recipients and beneficiaries. 

In contrast, philanthropists may be less experienced in donor-to-donor collaboration. It takes time, effort and commitment to build the trust and strong relationships required, and to agree on a shared goal and approach. Crucially, it also involves compromise – it can be difficult to share control with others. Deciding if this is the best way forward comes down to your objectives, resources and desired degree of involvement and control.

If you do want to join with others, philanthropic collaboration can take different forms. These range from the most accessible, such as sharing best practices to inform decision-making, to the formation of coalitions and cross-sector partnerships to achieve large-scale change.

Sharing information for more strategic action 

In order to create and implement effective giving strategies, philanthropists need to develop knowledge in their area of focus. 

Sharing best practices, learning about issues and meeting diverse stakeholders leads to a better understanding of the needs of those affected and how best to support them.

From a practical point of view, information sharing can help generate efficiencies when it comes to due diligence and operational matters.

The Global Philanthropy Forum, for example, is a peer-learning network of philanthropists with affiliate groups in Brazil and Africa. It connects philanthropists to subject-matter experts, as well as to local and international leaders in order to inform, enable and enhance strategic philanthropic efforts.

This basic level of collaboration also often extends to encompass skills training, peer support and efforts to foster greater collaboration. Ariadne, a European peer-to-peer network of more than 600 funders and philanthropists who support social change and human rights, delivers masterclasses and hosts online communities and networking events for its members to share experiences and support one another. 

Coordinating or pooling funding to amplify impact

Coordinating funding allows philanthropists to reduce overlaps and identify ways to complement one another’s work while still maintaining control of their own decisions.

For example, Big Bang Philanthropy is a group of private and corporate funders who each give at least USD1 million per year to fight international poverty and who aim to co-fund projects where possible. The funders who support Women Moving Millions also are united by a common interest: each has publicly committed to directing at least USD1 million to causes supporting women and girls. While members are not required to co-fund, the network has led to organic and inorganic collaboration and co-funding.

Where an individual is willing to relinquish some control, pooling funds enables philanthropists to be part of something bigger than themselves, often achieving more than they would when making their own decisions on allocating resources. The Hong Kong Funders Network on Ageing Well started as an information-sharing network and went on to pool funds to support five pilot projects. The network then successfully influenced government policy to incorporate the lessons learned from these projects in ageing-related initiatives in Hong Kong.

There are many other examples of pooled funds reflecting the range of needs philanthropists are seeking to address: Co-Impact's work to effect change at scale in the Global South is supported by leading philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Jeff Skoll; Ocean 5's collaboration of new and experienced philanthropists is protecting the world's five oceans; and the Women Donors Network's collective giving focuses on funding for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour-led and centred work.

Creating cross-sector partnerships for scalability 

To make a difference at a systems-level, collaboration needs to include not just philanthropists but other influential actors, such as governments and businesses.

When successful, these more formal networks and partnerships can scale up to unlock truly transformative change. 

Given the involvement of government institutions, public-private partnerships are often focused around a geographic area, such as the Family Violence Philanthropy Collaboration Project in Australia, which has brought the philanthropic, family violence, health, justice, education and government sectors together to try to end family violence in Victoria. For the India Climate Collaborative, funders, government agencies, think tanks, scientific institutions, universities, non-profits and networks link up to direct funding and visibility towards climate action in India. 

Making connections

With a range of options, how might philanthropists get started on the path to collaboration? First, it's important to have a clear idea about what you want to achieve and the role you want to play, Chan says. 

If you are just starting out on your journey, it makes sense to join existing collaboratives and learn from them. If such a group does not exist in your chosen area of interest, connect with others to develop your collective expertise together. 

Choosing whom you work with is a crucial step. "Finding a collaborator is like a marriage," Chan notes. "It's a long-term relationship, so you have to know who you're partnering with." To avoid problems later, it is important to invest time at the start to agree the terms of engagement – similar to setting up a company. Who controls what? How will decisions be made? 

At HSBC Private Banking, we play a valuable role helping funders make the sorts of connections that have the potential to lead to collaboratives that make a positive change in the world. Our global presence means we can access philanthropy networks around the world and provide you with the information you need to guide the development of your philanthropy, from initial vision and planning through to implementation and ongoing management. To learn more, contact us or your Relationship Manager.

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