European Foundations Working Together

“I think in Europe, more than in the US, hierarchy is an issue,” claims one of the practitioners interviewed for the new GrantCraft guide on collaboration between foundations in Europe. This latest GrantCraft publication zooms in on foundations working together within countries and across borders in Europe."

Collaboration between foundations in Europe takes many shapes and forms. Collaboratives may focus on learning, on aligning strategies or pooling funds, or all of the above. The arrangements are usually tailored and there is a lot of learning by doing involved. For example when you work across borders, language is an issue: “It all started with a coffee, and in Italian of course,” says a practitioner -- relevant information only because it was said by someone whose mother tongue is not Italian.

Speaking someone else's language can really change the dynamics of a relationship. Collaboration in Europe is all about different people and organisations finding common ground.  There is plenty of value added in this diversity but also pitfalls: unknown limitations, multiple agendas, mysterious hierarchies, foreign language and misunderstandings, it is all about whether you know what you do not know.  

This new GrantCraft guide makes it clear that many European foundation practitioners value what collaboration among diverse actors can bring. They invest time and resources into it and the guide shares what they have been learning. The development of 'European Foundations Working Together' has been important for the EFC which took up GrantCraft together with the Foundation Center in 2011. As a European membership organisation that encourages the joint activities of our members, this is a topic near and dear to us. And whether you work in Europe or not, the guide is also a good read for all foundations that seek to collaborate with any diverse partners.

As this is one of the first European guide projects we started, we also had to think about presentation and language. Would European audiences appreciate the informal, personal tone of the original guides, and how important are tools, quotes, and cases? In line with the original GrantCraft guides we decided to continue to make elaborate use of quotes taken from interviews with foundation staff and board members to let practitioners speak for themselves. And since we were experimenting anyway, we also involved a cartoonist!

It seems fitting that this guide was in itself a true collaboration among the team who produced it, and also with the foundation representatives interviewed and the readers of our drafts. Two of the writers are non-native speakers of English, and although some of us knew each other already, most people involved in the process were strangers to each other at the start of this adventure. The team met in person only twice, and with a few exceptions, interviews were done via telephone.

The experience quickly started to resemble the collaborative ventures we were writing about, and itself took on the seemingly standard features of European foundation collaboration. While it was the first project we started, it took a while to complete it. In hindsight, a less complex topic would have been easier to undertake at a stage when GrantCraft still has to gain the trust of European readers. Yet interviewees we talked to were kind enough – not to mention brave enough – to share their experiences with us; contributions critical to bringing GrantCraft to life in Europe. They were generous and candid, and their frankness enabled us to uncover some of the complexities involved in foundations working together, within the boundaries of their countries and across Europe. Undoubtedly there are hidden layers to the craft of collaboration, issues that interviewees only hinted at. I hope that the guide provokes you to reflect on those too.

And meanwhile, we move ahead. The newest GrantCraft project of EFC is about funding and doing advocacy in Europe. Again we will explore some European experiences building on the original guide ‘Advocacy Funding: the Philanthropy of Changing Minds’. If you have been involved in or funded activities to influence  public policy in Europe or in European countries, please contribute to this new project through this brief survey

The guide ‘Foundations in Europe Working Together’ can be downloaded free of charge from our website where you will find a lot more, including the original, 2009 guide ‘Funder Collaboratives: Why and How Funders Work Together’.


About the author(s)