In 1992, I was asked by a colleague to help The Americana Foundation learn about an issue being discussed in our state (Michigan). I met with the board and suggested that they gather with some of the diverse stakeholders and hear their perspectives of the issue. Three intense days later, we all walked away with a list of recommendations and implementation agreements. It was a powerful lesson in what 27 people with very diverse opinions and beliefs can do when they work together.
We tend to call it collaboration, a word with many descriptions: cooperation, mutual support, shared work and goals, to work jointly, to communicate openly. Okay, you get the point. The thing is, you can’t do it alone.
The past silos of individual foundations focused on their own missions and operations have grown into forces targeting multiple challenges at the local, regional, and global levels. We come together in large and small groups, support the convening of our grantees, and find ways to work jointly to tackle the issues and challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s world. We’ve found that collaboration, cooperation, and learning together expands philanthropy’s impact.
Michigan’s foundations are diverse (in assets, programs, and staff size), and we all meet periodically to learn about one another’s grant programs and operations and the state’s big issues. We can refer potential grantees to one another. Although Americana is small in assets and in staff (1.5), I can sometimes fund a $5,000 grant much easier than a foundation with a large program staff. Getting together and learning together has helped the foundation community and our grantees. Out of one of these meetings came the commitment that foundations must take the lead in Detroit’s rebirth, and we have.