Everyone is looking for measurable impact these days, in the philanthropic community and beyond. And while accountability is increasing, funders and nonprofits are facing fewer resources and capital.
For the philanthropic community, the ever-present challenge is figuring out how to best invest dollars to reach maximum impact within supported organizations or affinity issues. The nonprofit community is facing a complex array of challenges in reaching impact, diminishing resources and challenging political and economic environments for their organizations and their clients.
From a philanthropic perspective, WOMEN’S WAY is seeking to ease the culture of nonprofits competing with one another for limited dollars—both as an investment strategy and also as a means for facilitating better programs and impactful outcomes. Our newest grantmaking initiative, discussed below, focuses on collaboration as a key piece to maximizing impact. Encouragingly, as we learned at our June 2012 Women’s Issues Summit, nonprofits are embracing the idea of collaboration as well; collaboration as a means to maximizing their own programming and also maximizing the dollars invested by the philanthropic community.
What Does Collaboration Mean?
Collaboration is “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor” (Merriam-Webster n.d). WOMEN’S WAY’s annual Women’s Issues Summit (WIS) is in many ways the prototype for how to facilitate collaboration. The WIS is an opportunity for leaders and program staff of local, women/girl-focused nonprofit organizations to come together to discuss the most pressing issues facing their organizations and facing their clients; an annual “check-in” so to speak to learn what is happening on the ground and what we, as a funder in particular, can do to help address what is happening.
What was learned at this year’s Summit was that nonprofits in the Philadelphia area want funders to know that they are open to collaboration. One WIS participant noted that “we are all chasing the same dollars and working with clients to often achieve the same results; can’t we do it better together than in competition?” Another participant noted, “funders expect a lot with shrinking financial support; collaboration seems like a good idea.”
Collaboration among funders is not a new concept. The idea is that a group of funders get together and agree to contribute to a pot of money for an intended purpose. Local examples include the Asian Mosaic Fund, the Job Opportunity Investment Network and the Community Design Collaborative. The idea of nonprofit collaboration, where nonprofit organizations contribute their expertise for an intended result or impact, has not been fully explored in our area, but its time has come.
In fact, WOMEN’S WAY has been thinking about this idea of supporting collaboration among nonprofits for several years and implemented a new grantmaking initiative this year called WOMEN’S WAY Action Partners (WWAP) based on that premise. The purpose of WWAP is to fund (with up to three years of general operating support) a select group of dynamic, high-performing, women-led organizations that are working on issues of relevance and importance to women and girls in our region. WWAP is driven by the idea that it is important for women’s organizations to work together in advocating for women’s rights and in providing a coordinated front for framing that messaging, and that this coordination will ultimately amplify the voice of women and girls in our region. We publicly announced our inaugural group of six Action Partners organizations on July 31, 2012. The expectation is that these groups will work together to advance their shared issues and goals for increasing opportunities for women and girls in our region, as well as help WOMEN’S WAY advocate on behalf of women and girls more substantively and effectively. The longevity of the funding commitment and the collaborative focus mean greater community impact on issues affecting women and girls, an amplified voice for women and girls in our region, and hopefully public policy advances that benefit women and girls. We, as well as our inaugural cohort, are anxious to see the results. One of our Action Partners, Childspace Cooperative Development Inc. Executive Director, Janet Filante felt that the collaborative aspect of Action Partners was a big draw in applying for funding. "They (the Action Partners) all affect women," Filante said. "We don't often get enough opportunities to look at our work from a larger perspective. So I think some exciting things will come out of this."
As a result of our 2012 WIS, we have also incorporated this idea of nonprofit collaboration into our Community Women’s Fund (CWF). The CWF is a semiannual funding opportunity that provides general operating or project support to emerging organizations or programs that are addressing a pressing issue or need facing women and girls. A new funding priority beginning with our Fall 2012 CWF cycle is to support collaborations between organizations working on one or more of our core tenets—equality, economic self-sufficiency, reproductive freedom, healthcare and girls’ leadership/empowerment. We are excited to see what we receive in terms of ideas involving this call for collaboration.
Where The Rubber Meets The Road
It would seem that through collaboration, involved organizations can potentially expand their capacity to fulfill not only their individual social missions but also expand the impact of the common issue(s) driving the collaboration. The mindset will be “we” instead of “us” or “them.” We think an active learning experience will result for not only the nonprofit collaborators but also for the funders willing to become a partner in the alliance.
There are sure to be some challenges with collaboration, we recognize that, but without easing the strain of competition for funding dollars, we will never know the possibilities and potentially never realize our maximum and meaningful impact as philanthropists. In order for nonprofits to successfully collaborate, the philanthropic community needs to support, if not reward, groups willing to work together.
Amanda Aronoff is Executive Director of WOMEN’S WAY, where she provides leadership on the grantmaking, public policy and education efforts of the organization. Prior to WOMEN'S WAY, Amanda was with at Project H.O.M.E., as the Vice President of Development & Public Relations. She is the co-chair of Delaware Valley Grantmakers’ Women & Girls Funders Group. She is also a member of The Forum of Executive Women where she is a member of The Forum Award Committee. She holds a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. from Union College.
Jennifer Leith is the Director Grantmaking at WOMEN'S WAY where she oversees the Community Women's Fund and the new WOMEN'S WAY Action Partners program. She is also the Managing Director of The Alfred and Mary Douty Foundation. Jennifer's philanthropic background includes serving as Director of the Homeless Assistance Fund and Director of Grantmaking at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Philadelphia. She earned a B.A. from Bucknell University and M.A. from Rutgers University.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Available at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/collaborate.