Building Capacity for Sustained Collaboration

By Heather McLeod Grant, Kate Wilkinson, and Mickey Butts

The social sector is facing a perfect storm.

Demand for community services keeps rising. At the same time, government funding is in decline, more philanthropy is concentrated in the hands of fewer funders, and smaller donors are giving less. And this was before the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recession hit—just as we were preparing to launch this report. Since March 2020, an already dire situation has destabilized further, featuring skyrocketing demand for services coupled with falling revenue and an entirely uncertain future.

As a result, demand for “sustained collaboration” is rapidly growing, as nonprofits seek to do more with less by combining resources and putting impact ahead of organizational identities. Over the past decade, more than 100 local foundations in seven communities have committed $20 million in capital and created pooled-funding initiatives to help local nonprofits pursue “a continuum of organizational strategies for structured collaboration that represent a long- term and permanent change to their business or operating models.” These strategies can take the form of mergers, shared services, partnerships, and other arrangements. Six local initiatives are now launching the national Sustained Collaboration Network (SCN) to develop best practices and share frameworks and tools that will benefit members and other communities considering similar efforts.

The launch of this network—and this report— couldn’t be more timely. Inside, readers will find stories from communities that have experimented with pooled funding models for supporting sustained collaboration, two case studies of initiatives in Los Angeles and New York, and a list of emerging practices for other communities and funders seeking to emulate this approach. The time is ripe for funders and nonprofits to begin thinking beyond the immediate crisis and contemplate the structural reform needed to create a more sustainable, resilient sector that can maximize community impact. We hope this report will provide some ideas for advancing this important work.

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