Getting Funder Collaboration Right How to Begin

Getting involved. Foundations become involved in the exploratory phase of a collaborative effort either as initiators or invitees. Experience suggests that it can take some time to get the right people around the table. Initially you might not even know who the right people are. So a certain degree of ambivalence or uncertainty, at least at the outset, is to be expected.

Common goals. When there are shared values, a common vision and clear objectives, it is easier to deal with diversity: “You may go in saying, okay, we’re all operating in the same space, but with different approaches. Nevertheless, we are all trying to achieve the same things. If we agree on the objective, then it matters less if we have different operating styles.”

Tip of the iceberg. Collaborative initiatives often appear to run into trouble because they focus exclusively on the rational, overt aspects of work- ing together, overlooking the powerful role played by concealed or seemingly irrational factors. Like an iceberg, aspects of collaboration may manifest only as small evident parts of more substantial fea- tures that are out of sight. It is critical to the success of collaboration that blind spots, office and power politics, tacit assumptions, “no-go” areas, secret hopes, wishes and fears, are continually explored at every stage of the process.

Probing to uncover the invisible part of the iceberg, carefully and respectfully, helps to establish trust and a comfort zone. Practitioners overwhelmingly recommended to take time and create opportunities to explore together organisational identities, ways of working and perspectives on the issue to be addressed. Key questions for these initial steps are:

  • Motives and agendas. What drives your organisation? What do you want to get out of this collaborative effort? And what do your partners seek? Do you understand what drives them? You don’t need to be the same, but are you compatible? Can you capture what the synergy is?
  • Partners. Who is at the table? What makes them different? How much influence do they have? Would it add value to involve other partners or other organisational representatives? And remember, differences are easier to deal with when agendas are aligned.
  • Language. Do you have a shared vocabulary? Language is a critical issue at this stage. English is often the common denominator in Europe, but do you all mean the same thing with what you say? Are you comfortable admitting that you do not understand something?
  • Common goals. You may have different agendas but do you really have a common goal? How do you know that you are making progress? Even if your collaboration is not experimental, agree on regular intervals to evaluate both the process and the outcomes.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Foundations in Europe Working Together.