An often-cited frustration of the philanthropic sector by critics both within and outside is that there are so many organizations but still not enough being accomplished. Why can’t they all just work together?
Research has proven that collaborations can be effective, but take effort and time. That harnessing collective abundance across the philanthropic sector and between sectors increases positive outcomes when it’s done correctly. So why isn’t everyone working together to eradicate poverty, hunger, disease and achieve equality?
To some degree, the answer is fairly simple. We don’t all agree on how, why, or in what order we should do this work. And, what may work in Detroit probably won’t work in Sierra Leone. There’s also a mentality that if we work to solve one issue, there won’t be enough left over to solve the others. These are all real and valid challenges to tackling any of the world’s ills.
But a more nuanced challenge in American-based philanthropy is that it is extremely difficult to understand the landscape of work being done. Recently, I embarked on a research journey to map “line leaders” that are working in the aging sphere in Florida*. This is work that The Patterson Foundation (TPF) has funded and advocated for in a variety of ways over the last decade. And, as you may imagine, Florida is prime real estate if an organization is looking to pilot a framework or program around aging. But it is TPF’s value to do philanthropy in a way others aren’t doing, cannot do or will not do. To be effective in that mission, it is necessary to understand what others are doing.
The image here is a brief glimpse into the chaos of my brain and the difficult nature of sussing out who is doing what and how in any philanthropic sub-sector. On the right, an initial “brain mapping” of what I knew. Then a more narrated version, and finally some order on the far left. And this is with the friendly contributions of other major players in the space. This is not a final version of anything, but rather a demonstration of how much work can be involved just to get to a point where a philanthropic entity may be able to identify potential relationships.
Rather than a problem with no solution, I’ll share just a few thoughts on where we can start, in American philanthropy, to better understand how we could work together.
1) Be willing to share what you’re working on.
2) Be willing to learn about what others are doing.
3) Share your great success, and your failures because if there’s a reason it didn’t work, everyone should be able to learn from your experience.
4) Think in terms of how your organization (be it provider, funder, donor, etc.) can collaborate to create a system of success.
Not everyone wants to, should, or will be a partner in your cause. But there is most definitely at least one that could help you be the change you wish to see.
*This map does not include providers as our goal was to see how we might collaborate with other high-level organizations. Additionally, my flip chart pages aren’t big enough for that map.