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[Video]: Funder Collaboratives: A Conversation With Patricia Swann, Senior Program Officer, New York Community Trust

September 27, 2011

(Susan Herr, a longtime advocate for social change, founded PhilanthroMedia, Inc. in 2007 to "celebrate the end of philanthropy as usual and advance the perspectives of those leading the charge." This is the first of four interviews she conducted for PhilanTopic on the topic of collaboration. We'll be posting the other chats in the series -- with Omotade Akin Aina of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust, and Mai Kiang of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice -- over the next week.)

Funder collaboration isn't new. Having spent the past twenty years on both sides of the giving equation, I've watched the approach ebb and flow in popularity. Theoretically, it makes perfect sense. Convene a bunch of like-minded foundations that, together, can bring more dollars and resources to bear on a problem than each could alone. Identify grantees whose cumulative experience broadens the scope of possibilities and improves the chances of success. Build shared vision, execute passionately, and presto: life is better for everyone.

Of course, if you've ever been part of a funder collaborative, you know the reality is far more complicated. From 1996-2000, I directed the final four years of the Children, Youth and Families Initiative, a ten-year, $30 million effort spearheaded by the Chicago Community Trust to improve outcomes in seven low-income Chicago neighborhoods. The need was great, the vision ambitious. But as Patricia Swann, senior program officer at the New York Community Trust, ruefully told me when I spoke to her in August, "Sometimes it's hard working with people."

While I came away from my experience in Chicago with a more realistic sense of the challenges of collaboration, I also came away very much in agreement with Swann's assessment that collaboration, when done well, offers all partners the opportunity to "magnify and amplify the impact of their work."

Swann, a veteran of the nonprofit sector, has provided leadership on a wide range of issues in New York City. In the video chat below, she offers her perspective on the hallmarks, challenges, and rewards of collaboration, as well as often-overlooked elements of the "process" needed to advance a truly shared vision.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)

 

(Running time: 4 minutes, 37 seconds)

If you're a grantee currently engaged in a funder collaborative, feel free to share this post with the powers that be. And if you're a funder, take heed. Collaboration is the road less traveled for a reason. But as the veteran grantmakers we'll be featuring in this series make clear, it is a path that often leads to truly meaningful social change.

What would you add to Swann's caveats? What's the most important thing you've learned about collaboration in the nonprofit sector? Use the comments section below....

-- Susan Herr

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