Photo: Andrew Spector at Feedback Labs’ 2024 national conference in Denver, CO

Peacebuilding to Increase Funder-Nonprofit Collaboration for Collective Impact

Posted on May 30, 2024 by Andrew Spector, TPF Fellow 2023/24

Editor's Note: Andrew Spector joined The Patterson Foundation as its tenth fellow in August 2023. Click here to learn more.


From May 14-17, I attended Feedback Labs’ 2024 national conference in Denver, CO. As part of the conference, I had the opportunity to co-facilitate a “LabStorm” presentation about Philanthropic Partnership Workshops, an initiative I’ve launched with Jake Wild Crea that uses conflict resolution dialogue techniques from the peacebuilding field to strengthen funder-nonprofit collaboration.

Prior to being a Fellow at The Patterson Foundation, I co-founded Tulsa Changemakers, a K-12 youth leadership organization. As part of my role at Tulsa Changemakers, I developed and directed our fundraising efforts. As lead fundraiser, I learned the joy of aligning resources with a meaningful cause and building high-impact partnerships with institutional and individual donors.

I also got to experience first-hand the unproductive status quo in the philanthropic sector: funders and nonprofits typically don’t communicate openly or honestly. Or, in academic terms, the philanthropic sector lacks a key component of highly effective teams: psychological safety. As my colleague Jake Wild Crea wrote in his master’s thesis, “Reimagining Philanthropy: A Dialogue-Driven Approach to Maximize Funder-Implementer Collaboration” (2023):

When any negative interaction could jeopardize your organization, your salary, or your community, you learn to walk on eggshells. That is to say, the philanthropic sector lacks psychological safety. Amy Edmondson defines team psychological safety as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” (Edmondson, 1999). In a workplace with psychological safety, employees can share their thoughts, actively seek input, offer candid feedback, collaborate, embrace risks, and experiment without fear of negative consequences (Edmondson, 1999). Research shows that psychological safety substantially impacts performance at both individual and team levels, as it fosters increased knowledge sharing, engagement, creativity, innovation, and overall performance (Newman et al., 2017).

This matters because a lack of psychological safety in the philanthropic sector limits philanthropic impact. And the catch-22 is that this lack of psychological safety inhibits our ability to talk about the lack of psychological safety.

I encountered this catch-22 while conducting independent research on the relationships between nonprofits and funders as part of my master’s in philanthropic studies at Indiana University Indianapolis Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. One of the top themes that emerged from a survey I conducted of Tulsa area nonprofits and funders was the collective desire for a neutral convening space for nonprofits and funders. As an insider, however, how could I create a neutral space? And, even if I could position myself as objective, what tools could I use to, at least temporarily, create enough psychological safety for nonprofits and funders to talk openly and honestly?

Just as I was beginning to wrestle with these questions, I was introduced to Jake Wild Crea, who had a potential answer: third-party facilitation using conflict resolution dialogue techniques from the peacebuilding field. Could strategies that get warring parties to talk with each other get funders and nonprofits to do the same?

Through two in-person pilot workshops in Tulsa in May and December 2023, Jake and I worked to answer that question. So far, the results are promising. 100% of participants report our workshops enabled discussion of topics typically unaddressed in daily work; 97% report increased funder/nonprofit trust, understanding, and empathy; and 94% feel better equipped to build and deepen trust in the fundraising/grantmaking relationship.

During our “LabStorm” at the conference, we shared our story and what we’re learning from the pilots, provided attendees with an experience of our approach, and received insightful feedback from participants about the future of these efforts. We’re grateful to Feedback Labs for the opportunity to present and to all the participants in our session that have already made our work better.

Moving forward, we’re enthusiastically continuing to pilot this work in Tulsa while also exploring collaboration with other early adopter communities. We’re energized by the potential for this approach to help strengthen funder-nonprofit collaboration and increase overall philanthropic impact.


Feedback Labs 2024 national conference in Denver CO

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