Get in the Spirit of Collaboration


Business team discussing together business plans in officeDonors and foundation leaders often expect nonprofits to collaborate, but they less frequently turn that expectation on themselves. Yet there is tremendous opportunity to exponentially expand impact through funder collaboration. In fact, it is rare for an individual or a funder to produce meaningful research or develop an idea all alone. Collaboration allows for greater leverage of ideas, investments, and reach to better ensure that research is thorough and conclusive, and that new products or approaches work and are relevant to those they’re intended to serve.

What does it mean to collaborate? Funder collaborations happen in many different ways, all of which leverage the strengths of each collaborative partner to achieve a common goal. Collaborations can be formal and complex, with written agreements and well-defined roles and structures, or they can be a series of ongoing conversations or even simple handshake agreements. They can be long-term efforts that require a significant commitment of time and funds, or short-term tactical approaches to addressing a common need. They can require a pooling of funds for investment, or simply aligning investments toward a common goal at the discretion of each collaborator.

But in seeking new ideas and approaches, in being innovative, funders need to look beyond their own peers. For example, when working with domestic violence shelters, the Blue Shield of California Foundation learned that the shelters were challenged by the task of paying for hotel room beds for victims of violence when their shelters were full. The foundation connected a group of shelters with an app development company, and the result of that collaboration was a new SafeNight app that allows shelters to crowdsource funding for hotel beds in real time, as needed. Blue Shield of California Foundation itself could never have provided the technical know-how or the connections to make that approach work. Neither could other foundations. Instead, BSCF collaborated with a for-profit software developer, nonprofit domestic violence service providers, and private hotels to make the idea a success.

Collaborations can be messy, and they can take unanticipated twists and turns. But so can innovation. In fact, we typically expect that new ideas or products require some disruption – so it stands to reason that the processes by which those new ideas or products emerge (in this case, collaboration) should be somewhat disruptive as well.

Read “Asking ‘What If?’ Using Research and Development as a Strategy to Achieve Dramatic Impact” to explore more practices and mindsets that are crucial to growing your foundation’s impact.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. She was recently inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame, one of only six consultants chosen in 2017. In 2016 she was named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers, and authored the book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.”  For more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group to read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.

Challenge of the Week: Are you working on a new collaboration, or looking for ways to expand your collaborative efforts?  Email me at and I’ll offer a few suggestions!

“Kris’s presentations are a compelling combination of solid best-practice information coupled with real-world examples from her work with numerous foundations.”

~Ret Boney, Executive Director, North Carolina Network of Grantmakers

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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