Funder collaboratives are most effective when they focus on "big picture" initiatives, establish clear goals and structures, bridge different foundation cultures, pool funding for joint projects, and have an exit strategy, a new study of a ten-year, nearly $500 million partnership among seven foundations argues.
The report, Lessons From a Ten-Year Funder Collaborative: A Case Study of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (50 pages, PDF), examines the evolution, successes, and shortcomings of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, an initiative created by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford, MacArthur, and Rockefeller foundations and later joined by the Hewlett, Mellon, and Kresge foundations. According to the study, the initiative can be credited with increasing investment in higher education in Africa, strengthening individual universities, increasing the focus on larger initiatives that otherwise would not have been possible, and boosting higher education-related data creation and collection. At the same time, the study found that the initiative suffered from a lack of mission clarity, an insufficiently strong coordinating body and lack of expertise on specific issues, a lessening of interest as foundation leadership changed, and the lack of an exit strategy.
Based on discussions with thirty participants, including the four founding presidents, and written by Susan Parker of Clear Thinking Communications, the study highlights lessons learned and offers a number of recommendations for maximizing the impact of funder collaboratives: Focus on large-scale efforts that participants could not fund all by themselves; set clear goals and expectations; establish coordinating and decision-making structures; secure the commitment of senior management; take time to build trust through frank discussions of agendas and limitations; partner with local agencies and grantees; and develop strategies for long-term sustainability.