Philanthropy Ireland Summer Members Networking Event

In a world of increasing uncertainty collaboration is more and more essential. Exploring the theme presents opportunity to understand both the potential and challenges for effective collaboration on philanthropy initiatives. From straightforward information sharing to pooling of funding, collaboration can span a wide breadth of activity.

Addressing an online forum, Katie Boswell, Associate Director at NPC and Marcel Lauziere, CEO of the Lawson Foundation, explored the theme with Philanthropy Ireland members and colleagues. Drawing on her recent research and analysis of collaborative funding initiatives, Katie noted the ambition for systems change and utilisation of a place-based approach to impact on key issues.

While many of the reasons for collaboration are readily understood — achieving greater impact, maximising resource utilisation, avoiding duplication — there are undoubtedly challenges involved. Setting aside the challenge of demand on time and resources, understanding and maintaining focus on individual impact can be difficult in a collaboration of funders.

Focusing on contribution rather than attribution was suggested to encourage funders to rethink how the issue of impact can be addressed in a collaborative process. A shared vision is a critical prerequisite for this to work well.

Drawing on years of experience in the philanthropy sector in addition to the current work of the Lawson Foundation, Marcel suggested the need for a three-pronged approach for effective philanthropic collaboration: a strategy of collaboration with other funders, with grantees and with government. He presented really interesting examples of all three approaches in the work of the Lawson Foundation.

While acknowledging that collaboration is not always easy, or indeed necessary in every situation, the key driver is to increase impact. When done well it can challenge us to look at things differently and to work differently. Unless we do things differently there will be no change. That is the power of collaboration.

Commenting on collaboration with government, Marcel pointed to the need for foundations to communicate to policy makers what philanthropy can bring to the table. Suggesting there is still a lot of work to be done on this, he believes the onus is on foundations to better explain the role they can play. This is something we can identify with here in Ireland. Government hold the levers to bring about systemic change, a key ambition in strategic giving.

The importance of collaboration with grantees was highlighted throughout. Feedback from grantees can challenge funders in what they are doing. Funders place demands of accountability on grantees, but accountability can be a two-way process which can enrich the overall outcomes of engagement.

Trust is critical, whatever network of partners for collaboration is proposed. Building shared vison, investing time in considering shared values, understanding constraints and reality of different partners, will fully enrich the process and create a robust basis for collaboration. This applies whether it is collaboration among funders, grantees and/or government.

In conclusion, the importance of collaboration cannot be underestimated when considering the enormity of issues that need to be addressed — homelessness, poverty, racism, equality, climate change, to name but a few. As the current pandemic continues to unfold the issues will be challenging. We cannot look at issues in one way anymore, we need to reimagine and rethink pathways to address.

As referenced by one of the speakers, systems thinking is no longer optional. Interconnection between causes and issues we need to address are now so great we cannot tackle things alone. We need to work in collaboration to bring out the best across the system. Effective collaboration can enrich and positively contribute to solutions. As a naturally relationship-based society in Ireland, we can practice more collaborative approaches, philanthropy included.

Katie Boswell and Marcel Lauziere addressed the recent ‘Philanthropy in Practice’ online discussion forum of Philanthropy Ireland network. If you would like more details on this series of discussions please contact [email protected]

Reports referenced by the speakers can be accessed as follows: