Encouraging collaboration in philanthropy

Encouraging collaboration in philanthropy

Posted on April 09, 2014 by Pam Truitt

No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. - H.E. Luccock 

There is a rapidly growing interest among foundations, corporations and individual donors across the U.S. for greater teamwork — a place where ideas are generated and problems are solved. This is welcoming news.

Just a few short years ago, the Lodestar Foundation and The Patterson Foundation were alone in the collaboration field. By last count, nearly 20 foundations/funders have developed a strategic focus on teamwork for greater impact. As just one of the two foundations focused on collaborations out of the many thousands in the U.S., we could not possibly be effective enough to move the needle. I am thrilled to be in the company of great minds interested in this space! We must work together and learn from each other.

Many folks in this space understand the value and benefits of collective impact, teamwork, collaboration—or whatever label you choose to apply. But we don’t have a good feel for getting the process started. Studies and experience show that heavy-handed matchmaking will not produce long-term gains. Encouragement is still the best method.

How do you encourage working together? 

I am putting this question on the table for a group think. The premise is that working together transcends all boundaries. Examples, ideas and best practices should include all sorts of teamwork. Think sports, events, etc.

I’ll start with one example and ask readers to add many more. The goal is to share and learn!

I was part of a group that played volleyball every Sunday afternoon. Players came and went, but we had a core of about 10 who showed up promptly at 4 pm for about eight years. Mother Nature blessed my yard with two perfectly spaced pine trees (to string a net across) and a clearing large enough for a semi-pro court. We learned each other’s personalities and traits. We would evenly divide the teams by player strength to eliminate team domination. After about a year, we evolved into volleyball games + dinner. Everyone would bring a dish and we would sit together reliving shots, points and sportsmanship. Over time, our relationships strengthened and we became closer—knowing each other’s families, job issues and health concerns and aspirations. We began to help each other out when the need called.

What made our volleyball so successful? We wanted the same things — to exercise, have fun and break bread. And it was convenient—six players were neighbors. Most everyone—there’s always one who lets competitiveness get in the way of teamwork—didn’t take themselves too seriously. Our skills improved. We understood each others' strengths and weaknesses. We fell into natural roles and no one fussed about setting up the net, marking the court, preparing a dish to bring or helping with clean-up. Outside of volleyball, we operated like a network—pulling together when it was necessary. We genuinely cared for and supported each other and because we had spent so much time together, the caring continues to this day.

More than 20 years have passed since our last game. I sold the house and moved. A few joined more competitive teams at the beach, but most of us were in it for more than volleyball. The relationships lived on. The photo is real—dated September 1989.

The ability for a group of people to do remarkable things hinges on how well those people can pull together as a team ~ Jeff Pearlman 

Please share an example or two of working together, and how it began. I’ve used a personal example, but I know many are involved in civic or workplace collaborations.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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