Many funders are stuck in thinking in ‘silos’ while funding positive change in a complex world necessitates collaboration. Funders could do more to foster collaboration. A few foundations are trying to move beyond investing their endowments for maximum financial return.

Key findings

  • Many funders are stuck in thinking in ‘silos’ and could do more to recognise the interconnectedness of society. Funding positive change in a complex world requires collaboration not isolated interventions of individual organisations.
  • Funders could do more to fund groups of partners or bring collaborations together. Foundations can convene alliances and play a brokerage role. Yet not many funders seek genuinely collaborative proposals.
  • Many trusts continue to be reluctant to step in for, or subsidise, the state.
  • Too often grant-makers behaviour drives competition instead of co-operation. But some funders think collaboration is costly or self-indulgent.
  • Funding strategies are often developed in isolation rather than with the people they seek to benefit. While non-profit leaders say the best foundations are truly collaborative.
  • A number of foundations are reviewing their investment strategies to move beyond thinking about the value of the endowment and towards impact investing opportunities that deliver financial and social returns. While this is still a minority sport, it is not only large foundations exploring this field.
  • The idea of “strategic philanthropy” emerged and gained some popularity but has also had much criticism, partly as there is little evidence it has improved the impact of grant-making practice

“We have repeatedly felt a nagging suspicion that the conventional tools of strategic philanthropy just don’t fit the realities of social change in a complex world. If funders are to make greater progress in meeting society’s urgent challenges, they must move beyond today’s rigid and predictive model of strategy to a more nuanced model of emergent strategy that better aligns with the complex nature of social progress.” – John Kania, Mark Kramer, and Patty Russell Summer[1].

“One area in which philanthropy is getting stronger is collaboration. Funders increasingly encourage and/or require collaboration amongst their grantees, and are also starting to adopt the practice themselves, with an eye towards leveraging greater impact in the ecosystems in which they work.” – Shauna Nep, Goldhirsh Foundation[2].