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Collaboration multiplies the ways that funders can achieve a positive impact

Jim Cooke, Head of the Funders Collaborative Hub, Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), writes how funders can achieve more, together

The challenges of Covid-19 highlighted the importance of funders being connected and aware of their roles within a wider ecosystem.

Lloyds Bank Foundation’s Lessons for Funder Practice report highlights several ways the Foundation worked with others during the pandemic. Their reflections on this (Lesson 5: You can’t do it alone’) resonate strongly with my own experience of helping funders to achieve more together through the Funders Collaborative Hub.


Collaborating through Covid

At the start of the pandemic, funders understood that what charities needed from them was support delivered with speed, simplicity, and scale. Combining those three factors is not easy, especially when responding to newly emerging issues and fast-moving events. Yet various forms of collaboration helped to make this possible.

For example, a group of grant-makers in Gloucestershire developed a shared application portal, reducing the time local charities spent applying to multiple funders. Other funders pooled money into bigger pots such as the Community Justice Fund, enabling a more coordinated approach to tackling a particular issue. 

Funders increasingly saw that they didn’t possess all the expertise they needed. This recognition led to more grants being distributed through intermediaries who were closer to the communities funders wanted to reach, or who had specialist knowledge of particular fields, like supporting independent artists.

The sudden, universal shift to remote working in lockdown normalised the use of digital collaboration tools and made it easier for funders to have quick, regular online check-ins to exchange information. This helped to transform the roles played by existing funder forums, as well as accelerating the creation of new ones.


The good news is that collaboration takes many forms – and can be simpler than you might think. Informal intelligence-sharing is often the most powerful collaborative activity, and is accessible to all funders, enabling them to better understand how they fit together.

Joining forces for greater influence

ACF’s ‘Stronger Foundations’ report on funding practices encourages foundations to consider all the ways they can seek to achieve a positive impact, beyond a financial contribution. So it’s good to see the emphasis on influencing, as well as funding, in Lloyds Bank Foundation’s strategy

Collaboration can make it possible to tackle systemic issues and influence policy in a way that no single organisation could achieve on their own. Lloyds Bank Foundation’s work with a coalition of civil society infrastructure bodies on the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign is a great example of this, securing much-needed government support for charities. 

In the next five years, I hope to see more funders contributing to sector-wide collaborations like this. In reviewing ACF’s own strategy this year, we consulted on the future of collaboration and heard loudly that grant-makers should not only be collaborating with each other, but also with other charities who share their goals. 

Overcoming barriers to collaboration 

When I speak to funders about collaboration, there are several challenges they often bring up. Some can find it hard to identify the ‘right’ collaborators to work with – although by bringing information about collaboration opportunities together in one place, the Funders Collaborative Hub has started to make this a lot easier. 

Other common barriers relate to funders having insufficient capacity or flexibility to collaborate as effectively as they would like to. Overcoming these issues may require senior leaders or trustees to consider whether they are creating conditions within their organisation that help or inhibit collaboration. 

Foundations’ independence can be a double-edged sword when it comes to collaboration. Lloyds Bank Foundation note in their report that independence “can incentivise going it alone” but go on to describe how “partnership working is possible without compromising your integrity”. 

Jim Cooke from Funders Collaborative Hub is standing on a podium. He has his hand up while presenting. The lecturn infront of him has the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales Logo, which is a black horse

Jim Cooke, Head of Funders Collaborative Hub, speaking at our Lessons in Funder Practice event

Independence gives foundations incredible freedom to choose how best to use their resources to advance their charitable purposes. Collaboration multiplies the possibilities for how they can find and play their best role in pursuit of these goals. If a funder, in the name of preserving their independence, doesn't collaborate at all, they could inadvertently be curtailing their own freedom and missing out on maximising their impact.

The good news is that collaboration takes many forms – and can be simpler than you might think. Informal intelligence-sharing is often the most powerful collaborative activity, and is accessible to all funders, enabling them to better understand how they fit together. 

These “loose ties” will often be enough. But the more regularly and openly funders connect with others whose interests overlap with their own, the more chance there is to identify when, how and with whom deeper partnership working might help them achieve more together.


The Funders Collaborative Hub

On behalf of ACF, I’d like to thank Lloyds Bank Foundation for their considerable strategic, practical and financial support for the development of the Funders Collaborative Hub. 

The Hub’s website now offers more than 100 funder collaboration opportunities to explore, from informal networks to pooled funds. If you want to add an existing funder collaboration to the Hub, or start something new, get in touch to share what you’re working on.

Read more from our Lessons for Funder Practice