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50 posts categorized "Collaboration"

Isn't Our Research Already Free? Why Open Access Matters for the Social Sector & How You Can Get Involved

October 30, 2015

Open_repositoryLast week individuals and organizations across the globe, including Foundation Center's own open access repository IssueLab, celebrated Open Access Week. This annual event/celebration puts the spotlight on a concept that is of terrific importance to those of us who produce knowledge but also to those of us who rely on it to do our jobs.

According to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC): " 'Open Access' to information —  the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need  —  has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole."

Many of us who work in the social sector — who fund, produce, use, share, and safeguard research and knowledge about social issues and social change  —  already know that open access is incredibly important. Why? Because we live that last bit about "direct and widespread implications...for society as a whole." We're the people who grapple with social issues that impact all of us, all over the globe, every day. Through our work we research, implement, and share strategies that attempt to eradicate poverty, eliminate hunger, conquer inequality, abolish injustice, and so much more.

Free and immediate access to information about social change strategies, and unfettered use and reuse of the results of that information, just makes sense. It lines up with why we produce knowledge in the first place: to build awareness about tough social problems and the creative and persistent solutions that are making the world a better place.

In the spirit of both Open Access Week and of the purpose and principles that drive us to produce knowledge in the first place, we invite our social sector colleagues to learn more about what open knowledge sharing means for our sector. To get you started, we'll explore two concepts you can implement today: open licensing and open repositories.

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Consortial Leadership to Scale and Sustain Innovation

October 08, 2015

Teagle-Foundation-Tree-IconScaling change. Short- and long-term impact. Indicators of success. Dissemination. Effect. Sustainability.

Foundation officers frequently utter these phrases. In most cases, these words reflect a heartfelt concern for change in the desired area, and, to be sure, big bucks often are put behind such efforts. Still, scaling and sustaining innovation in colleges and universities is challenging work. Consortial leadership can make it easier, yet, as we have found, it is often overlooked and underestimated as a change strategy.

The Teagle Foundation has been making grants to higher education consortia and multi-campus collaboratives for more than a decade now. The strategy rests on the basic premise that "critical friends" — a term that higher education scholar George Kuh uses to describe friends who help you think better and do better work — need to be built into the change process. External evaluations of the foundation's work conducted by leading scholars in the field corroborate the foundation's own finding that collaboration, a core feature of Teagle's grantmaking, pays off in terms of greater change and innovation on campus.

Consider the advantages. Consortial leadership and collaboration help institutions get beyond the "no one is our peer" mindset. The consortial network provides support and a sounding board, creates shared responsibilities among its members, allows for information and knowledge exchange, and provides multiple settings in which practices can be tested. Perhaps one grantee said it best: "Collaboration helped 'foster the baking of half-baked' ideas." Adapting a solution borrowed from elsewhere is often much easier than inventing the solution.

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Creativity: A New Pillar of Sustainability

October 01, 2015

Sustainability21.980x980Creativity. We hack it. We map it. We study it. We rate it. We take it places. We build industries around it. We invest in it. We recognize we need it, even when it hurts. We know our future depends on it.

This is the first in a series of blog posts which will explore the radical premise that creativity is a key driver of sustainability

We will look at the role creativity plays in strengthening communities and driving change. We will appreciate entrepreneurs using the arts, design, and making to tackle topics like healthy food, climate change, the criminal justice system, and immigration. We will remind ourselves how much research science, technology, and social entrepreneurship have in common.

We will imagine creativity as an investment theme and propose how it may be integrated into impact and mission-related investment portfolios. We will review creativity standards for companies and investment funds seeking to have a positive social and financial impact. We will start the conversation about how to measure creativity's contribution toward our sustainable future.

What Do We Mean By Creativity?

Creativity is the spark. When the spark catches, it catalyzes an expression, an experiment, a "creation." If the spark turns into an invention, an entrepreneur can build an enterprise around it. 

If the invention works and the company is profitable and grows, there can be a wide-spread change – that's innovation. Innovation makes markets.

Business uses the word creativity, too. In fact, the Conference Board reports that creativity ranks among the top five skills that U.S. employers believe to be of increasing importance.

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Funding the Marriage Equality Movement: Lessons in Collaboration and Risk Taking

July 06, 2015

Rainbow-flagThe marriage equality movement in the United States has been fueled by the strategic and coordinated efforts of legal groups, advocacy organizations, and a small but active community of grantmakers. The historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26 to extend marriage equality nationwide was preceded by a gradual legislative sea change and a dramatic shift in public opinion. In 2001, a majority of Americans opposed the idea of allowing same-sex couples to marry. In 2015, polls showed a reversal of the numbers, with 57 percent of Americans favoring marriage equality.

One of the key funders behind this shift was the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC), an initiative of the Proteus Fund that has partnered with individual donors and foundations to award roughly $2 million in grants each year since 2004 for a broad range of publicly visible education activities aimed at advancing marriage equality. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, it's worth looking closer at how CMC, as a funder collaborative, contributed to the success of the marriage equality movement. The CMC story also offers lessons about the role philanthropy can play in advocacy, as well as how funders can collaborate and take risks to achieve greater impact.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, federal law defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. By 2004, marriage equality had gained traction with a number of key legislative wins, including the approval of civil unions in Vermont, which granted same-sex couples some (but not all) of the legal benefits of marriage, and a landmark victory in Massachusetts that made it the first state in the U.S. to uphold the right of LGBT couples to marry. But it was also a year of setbacks for the movement, as a series of same-sex marriage bans were passed in thirteen states. According to CMC director Paul A. Di Donato, it was around this time that some grantmakers began to realize that achieving a critical mass of support for marriage equality would require greater engagement by the philanthropic community, not just a few relationships between individual foundations and big national players. With that in mind, a group of funders, including the Gill Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and the Proteus Fund (as a convener), came together around the idea that pooling financial resources and sharing collective knowledge could lead to broader change. Subsequently, they agreed to test the waters as a funder collaborative for a few years to see whether same-sex marriage would continue to gain traction as an issue. In 2007, when Di Donato joined CMC, same-sex marriage was still at the top of the LGBT agenda and the collaborative's members were still deeply committed to supporting public education activities aimed at advancing that agenda.

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[Review] 'Staying the Course: Reflections on 40 Years of Grantmaking at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund'

May 15, 2015

Book_staying_the_courseWilliam S. Moody joined the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 1968, and for the next four decades he helped shape the fund's grantmaking programs in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Central and Eastern Europe. In Staying the Course: Reflections on 40 Years of Grantmaking at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Moody recounts with unflagging enthusiasm — and, at times, in great detail — his distinguished career, the credit for which he is more than happy to share with colleagues, collaborators, grantees, and members of the Rockefeller family and RBF board.

Staying the Course explores how RBF's grantmaking programs tried, "over time, to enlarge people's understanding of, and ability to address, sustainable development challenges; to protect human rights and promote international understanding; and to strengthen important dimensions of civil society and democratic practice in transforming societies." A tall order, to be sure, and one that, in Moody's view, the fund for the most part delivered on, thanks to what he describes as its "responsive and proactive, serendipitous and systematic" approach to "helping people help themselves."

Moody traces the evolution of that approach from the fund's establishment in 1940 by the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The operation was still very much a family affair, he writes, when he came on board in the late 1960s, but the Rockefeller family philosophy of being "in it for the long haul, articulating ambitious goals knowing full well that those goals could not be reached quickly," and being "willing to make long-term commitments to effective organizations and institutions — a decade or two or more, long enough 'to make a difference', as Andrew Carnegie said" — was already deeply embedded in the fund's grantmaking practice.

As a program officer at a relatively small foundation, Moody was focused on allocating the limited resources available to him to maximum effect. In the late 1960s, for example, RBF's annual budget for international programs was a modest $10 million to $15 million — although at a time when only 5 percent of total U.S. foundation grantmaking was directed overseas, the fund was considered an important player in the international arena. More importantly, its efforts in that arena, Moody argues, demonstrate that small investments can create significant impact. In fact, the approach to grantmaking he developed back then, he writes, is quite similar to what today we call "venture philanthropy," characterized as it was "by a high level of involvement with grant recipients; a willingness to experiment and try new approaches; and a focus on capacity building for sustainability" — while avoiding any expectation of a quick pay-off.

Early on, Moody's efforts were focused on two areas: the thoughtful use of natural and cultural resources, or what is now called "sustainable development," in the developing world, and strengthening civic engagement and the nonprofit/voluntary sector globally. From 1968 through the mid-1980s, for instance, RBF supported rural development in sub-Saharan Africa and anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa, where the young program officer learned the importance of collaboration — as well as the need for flexibility, patience, and good partners. When making grants in six Central and South American countries, for example, he made it a point to invest in individuals, people like conservation expert Kenton Miller, a pioneer of sustainable resource management models and a key facilitator of RBF's productive partnership with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 28-29, 2015)

March 29, 2015

Umbrella_april-showersOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


On the Rockefeller Foundation blog, Zia Khan, the foundation's vice president for initiatives and strategy, shares four "counter-intuitive lessons" about cross-sector collaboration.


On the Markets for Good blog, Bill Anderson, technical lead for the Secretariat of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), examines the potential for a people-based data revolution across Africa.


50CAN, a network of local education advocates "learning from and supporting each other," has launched a new blog called The Catalyst to help local education leaders develop policy goals, craft their advocacy plans, and secure lasting change.

On the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation blog, Cari Schneider, director of research and policy for Getting Smart, suggests that one of the least appreciated barriers to effective education reform is definitional in nature.


Why do people give to charity? The Guardian explains.

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Tracking the Human Rights Response to HIV

September 10, 2014

"Good decisions always require good information, and when resources are limited, data matters even more...."

– Greg Millett, vice president and director of public policy, amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research

Headshot_sarah_hamiltonIn August, AVAC and amfAR issued a report, Data Watch: Closing a Persistent Gap in the AIDS Response, that calls for a new approach to tracking data on the global response to AIDS. What's unique about Data Watch is that it places equal emphasis on filling the gaps in both epidemiological and expenditure information. Data has always reigned supreme in the public health world, but in their new report AVAC and amfAR pose a simple question: What happens to our quest to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 if we don't know whether we have the funding to sustain our efforts?

Through improved data, for instance, we now know that key populations (i.e., men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, transgender people, and sex workers) represent a major share of the epidemic, largely due to such factors as stigma, discrimination, and punitive laws that continue to marginalize these populations and keep them from the care and treatment they need. With human rights abuses continuing to fuel the epidemic and impacting the health and rights of those most at-risk, targeted funding for a human rights response to HIV is critical.

But is that happening?

Sadly, no. Recent research from the Join United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) [1] found that less than one percent of the $18.9 billion spent on the overall HIV response in 2012 supported human rights programming.

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Aligning Investments in Water Quality

June 01, 2014

Headshot_nathan_boonOne of the most exciting aspects of philanthropy is the prospect of effecting systematic change, yet many of us in the sector often struggle with the scale of the systems we're trying to influence. Certainly this is true in environmental philanthropy, where a single and coherent environmental system like a watershed (e.g., river basin) can encompass an enormous geography and a host of complex issues. Where my colleagues and I sit in the Delaware River watershed, for example, we're dealing with 216 major tributaries and an area of more than 13,500 square miles that includes four states, 838 municipalities, and a total population of nearly 8 million people. For watersheds and other large ecosystems, even the most generous grantmaking budget will be dwarfed by the enormity of what's needed, raising important questions for philanthropic investors. How can we be more effective in deploying scarce resources? How do we assess whether we're making a difference? Where do we choose to invest, and how do we support work in a way that meaningfully sets the stage for replication and greater impact?

At the William Penn Foundation, we're responding to these tough questions by implementing a new approach to a decades-long legacy of environmental grantmaking. With the support of our board and strong partners in the research and nonprofit communities, we are focusing our geographic footprint by prioritizing select ecosystems, aligning the work of capable nonprofit organizations within those ecosystems, targeting specific environmental stressors, and continually measuring progress. All to restore and protect the quality and availability of our water resources — resources with a history of unchecked pollution and abuse.

We have come a long way since the mid-1880s, when fouled water, factory waste, and mining by-products were drained into our waters at alarming rates. In the first half of the twentieth century, many bodies of water — including the Delaware Estuary, the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound — were renowned for their dead zones, stretches of polluted water where virtually nothing could survive. The extent of the damage eventually led to multi-sector partnerships to address the problem, including the first interstate watershed commission in 1936, as well as a succession of state and federal legislation to reduce point-source pollution, culminating in the Clean Water Act of 1972 and amendments to the act in 1977 and 1987. Today, as a result, we have far fewer dead zones in our lakes, rivers and estuaries, and polluters are held to a much higher standard when it comes to releasing waste into local waterways.

But it is not enough.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, new contaminants have emerged to threaten environmental and public health, even as major sources of industrial pollution have been outsourced to foreign shores. With the relative decline in American manufacturing and an ever-increasing U.S. population, we are seeing new threats from the industrialization of agriculture, suburban sprawl, and our appetite for fossil fuels. Regulators are challenged to address sources of pollution that are widely distributed across the landscape and cannot be traced back to a single end-of-pipe discharge point.

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The Smartest Investment We Could Make: The Future of Girls

March 13, 2014

(Dr. Anand K. Parekh is an adjunct assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and deputy assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. His family manages the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation.)

Girls_in_classroomAs the father of two young girls, there is no greater joy for me than to see them smile and thrive. This is why I often remember former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan’s words: "There is no policy for progress more effective than the empowerment of women and girls. A nation that neglects its children, especially girls, is a nation that neglects its future and development." Given this truth, the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation has initiated a focus on two areas particularly important to girls: water and sanitation, and primary school education.

We could have chosen many areas of need to focus on, so why girls, why water and sanitation, and why education?

To begin with, we were struck by the numbers: globally, 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation, while 768 million people lack access to safe water. Every day, 2,000 children die from water-related diseases. And each year, 60 million children are born into homes without access to safe water and sanitation. It's estimated that improvements in these areas alone could vastly improve health outcomes, increase productivity, and reduce healthcare costs – while increasing a country's gross domestic product (GDP) by anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent. Girls are disproportionately affected by the water and sanitation crisis, given that they frequently miss school or drop out altogether because of a lack of a private toilet in school. Tens of thousands of other girls and women spend hours at a time walking for miles while carrying water on their heads that can weigh up to forty pounds. Simply put, access to water, sanitation, and hygiene enables women and girls to take control of their lives.

The numbers around education are equally alarming: 793 million people worldwide are illiterate. Once again, girls and women are disproportionately affected and account for two-thirds of all illiterate persons. In the developing world, an estimated 42 percent of girls are not enrolled in school, while more than 60 million primary school-aged children of both genders do not have access to education and likely will never learn to read or write. The numbers are confounding, not least because we know that even a few years of basic education empowers women and girls to take control of their lives. Educated women are healthier (an extra year of  education for girls can reduce infant mortality by 5 percent to 10 percent) and earn more (an extra year of education boosts future wages by 20 percent). If every child were to receive an education, an estimated  171 million individuals would be lifted out of poverty.

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Are Social Sector Leaders Walking the Talk?

February 19, 2014

(The following post is the third in a series of four written by Laura Callanan, a senior fellow at the Foundation Center. Laura wishes to acknowledge colleagues who have contributed to this work. For more on the survey, click here.)

Social sector thought leaders such as Lucy Bernholz, Paul Bloom, Bill Drayton, and the late Greg Dees have all weighed in on how ecosystem-level cooperation is the only way to scale and sustain solutions to problems too daunting for any one organization to tackle alone. As Dees and Bloom wrote in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the first step for social entrepreneurs – and other social sector leaders – is to understand their environment:

Social entrepreneurs get help from some individuals and organizations, give help to others, fend off threats from others, and compete with still others. Social entrepreneurs must identify all of the relevant players and the roles that they play.…To create significant and long-lasting changes, social entrepreneurs must understand and often alter the social system that creates and sustains the problems in the first place. This social system includes all of the actors – the friends, foes, competitors, and even the innocent bystanders – party to the problem, as well as the larger environment – the laws, policies, social norms, demographic trends, and cultural institutions – within which the actors play....

In recent years, many funders and nonprofits – reinforced by colleagues in government and some corners of the private sector – have emphasized the importance of ecosystem-level efforts to address social problems. It all started with a few discrete cross-sector partnerships among businesses, government, and nonprofits. It evolved into a nuanced discussion of how social impact assessment must look at organizations' contributions to solving a problem, rather than attempt to attribute credit to individual actors within a like-minded group of organizations working in concert. It has led to innovative financing options such as social impact bonds, in which government, impact investors, and nonprofit service providers share risk, and rewards, in order to scale proven social welfare interventions. FSG even coined a term, "collective impact," to describe the approach.

My colleagues and I wondered whether the rhetoric around collaboration, cooperation, and ecosystem-level change was in fact the reality in the social sector. So, through a survey, we asked leaders in the sector how they are working today, and what attributes they thought would be most important for successful leaders in the future. The answers we found were mixed.

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For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action

January 29, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanIn this year's State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president's commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or, worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis —graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 18-19, 2014)

January 19, 2014

Mlk_B&WOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector.


Nancy Schwartz has a good post on her Getting Attention! blog laying out three steps to get data working for your nonprofit marketing efforts: catalogue the useful data you already have; set up systems, roles, and responsibilities to harvest, share, and analyze these data points; and make the changes -- in marketing content, format, and/or channel -- as indicated.

Education Reform

Despite the fact that they have been "relentlessly marketed to the American populace as a silver bullet for 'failed' public schools, especially in poor urban communities of African-American and Latino/a students," charter schools are creating as many problems as they are solving, writes Jeff Bryant, director of the Education Opportunity Network, in Salon.


What ended up scuttling the much-publicized merger of the Nature Conservancy and grassroots enviromental organization Rare? Arabella Advisors' Bruce Boyd shares his thoughts.


Writing in Roll Call, William Daroff, vice president for public policy at the Jewish Federations of North America, argues that should "the charitable contribution deduction be cut, capped or limited, the results could be catastrophic for those who need it the most."


In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Ken Thompson, a program officer in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Pacific Northwest Initiative, shares his thoughts about collective impact and whether funders are -- or could be -- playing roles that lead to wider adoption of a collective impact approach.

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To Create Change in America, Think Local

January 17, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanWe live in an age defined by profound change: New technology has revolutionized how we communicate and get our work done. The Great Recession has left many of us searching for jobs or struggling to gain skills that make us employable in the "new" economy. Shifting demographics offer promise and challenges as our neighborhoods transition. Federal and state funding cuts have left services previously taken for granted on shaky ground.

These changes have particularly affected the U.S. nonprofit sector, especially that portion focused on promoting equitable development, effective and transparent government, and smart and fair criminal justice policies. As anyone who works with these groups knows, nonprofits have been devastated by reductions in public and philanthropic funding.

At a time of rapid change in both the public and private sectors -- some of it driven by federal budget realities and some by how organizations are evolving to meet the demands of new technology and public expectations -- the cuts have limited nonprofits' ability to shape policy, provide services, and engage in collaborative partnerships.

The Open Places Initiative grows out of the realization that the ability of communities to respond to these challenges requires increased civic capacity, especially for efforts that attempt to further the inclusion and participation of those with low incomes, people of color, and other marginalized communities in civic, economic, and political life. By investing in nonprofit collaborations -- and supporting nonprofit groups in their partnerships with government, business, and local communities -- Open Society aims to expand nonprofits' potential to pursue effective responses to the demographic, economic, and technological changes that are re-shaping the country.

As part of this new initiative, we have awarded nonprofit collaborations in Buffalo, San Diego, and Puerto Rico $1.9 million each over two years.

Our commitment to these collaborations is long-term. Indeed, we plan to continue funding each site for at least three years -- and potentially for as many as ten. What's more, each Open Places site is taking the lead in determining the issues it will address and the form of collaboration it will pursue.

Here are a few examples:

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5 Questions for...Marissa Sackler, Founder and President, Beespace

January 16, 2014

Marissa Sackler established Beespace in New York City in 2013 to provide social entrepreneurs with experienced mentorship; in-house PR, tech, development, fundraising, and design assistance; and the support of an innovative entrepreneurial community. Beespace does not accept payment from its "Incubees" and requires that they secure at least four months of operational income before they head out on their own.

PND spoke with Sackler, founder and president of Beespace and a founding sponsor and activist for charity: water, in November about the incubator concept, how Beespace works for and with its Incubees, and her ambitions for the organization over the next few years.

Headshot_marissa_sacklerPhilanthropy News Digest: Although the concept of accelerators and incubators is fairly well established in the for-profit world, it's still relatively new in the nonprofit space. Why have nonprofits and funders been slow to embrace the concept?

Marissa Sackler: There are nonprofit incubators out there doing good work, but we think we've developed a more comprehensive model that's going to help organizations grow and achieve their potential. We use a three-pronged approach. The first prong is what we call our co-working space. It's important that we have a diversity of organizations learning and working side by side. The second prong is the internal agency we provide — our executive director, PR, tech, design, development, and fundraising experts — all of whom work to help the organizations grow and reach their potential. We also have people from social media, marketing, and accounting backgrounds visiting for weekly office hours with each organization. Finally, the third prong is the broader Beespace community within the nonprofit world. Beespace connects each Incubee with a nonprofit and for-profit mentor who then works with the organization to guide and support its growth.

PND: You’re currently working with three nonprofits -- the Malala Fund, the Adventure Project, and Practice Makes Perfect -- and you're planning to add three more. What do you look for in an Incubee?

MS: We look very closely at the leader, at the issue they're working to address, and at the nonprofit's overall organizational structure. We’re geography- and issue-neutral — we take organizations that are working both domestically and internationally. They can be working on any issue, but we want to identify groups with a strong organizational vision and an innovative strategy that have the ability to create real change and that are attempting to solve issues at scale. We look at scale in two ways: horizontally, in terms of expanding programs to effectively help solve an issue in multiple communities or even countries, but also vertically, making sure an organization is always maintaining the strongest quality and depth of programming while expanding.

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Minding the Ps and Ts of Funder Collaboration

December 06, 2013

(The following post was written by Nancy Jamison, executive director, San Diego Grantmakers, and Jennifer James, vice president of Harder+Company Community Research and a San Diego Grantmakers' funder collaboration consultant.)

Collaboration_clipartIf you are a grantmaker or work in the field of philanthropy, you understand the value of working with other funders and stakeholders to achieve shared goals. You're probably very familiar with the need to avoid working in "silos"; the power of "collaboration"; and how those things differ from "collective impact." And you almost certainly can relate to the fact that all of it is easier said than done.

At San Diego Grantmakers (SDG), a regional membership association for different types of funders, we have learned that even though the concept of working together seems straightforward, doing it is anything but. In many ways, however, grantmaker associations like ours are well positioned to facilitate collaboration among funders and across sectors. Among other things, we can be neutral conveners of grantmakers, service providers, infrastructure organizations, and business and civic leaders. And we can assist with communication and meeting coordination. As a result, this kind of support has emerged as a valued SDG member service.

The intensity and purpose of SDG's member collaborations varies. Some are learning groups comprised only of funders who meet occasionally to learn about topics of mutual interest. Sometimes this learning leads to aligned funding for specific nonprofits or projects. Sometimes it leads to convening or partnering with external stakeholders to do community problem solving or projects. We affectionately call this the "learning-to-doing continuum."

And so, though we certainly haven't discovered the foolproof, no-risk formula for successful collaboration, here are some lessons -- or collaboration "Ps & Ts" -- we've learned along the way:

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