Collaboration among multiple nonprofits is rarely seen in the charity sector. After more than three decades in the  world of philanthropy, recalling the details of more than a handful of such collaborations is difficult.

That’s why Jeffry Walker’s recent article “Transitional Philanthropy: Leveraging Innovation to Build Sustainability” emerged as a true thought-provoker; one that many nonprofit leaders, funders and professional fundraisers should consider.

I first knew Jeffry from his work as chairman of the New York chapter of NPower, a national nonprofit organization that provides IT training and services to individuals, schools and nonprofits.

A previously successful venture capitalist (who is used to backing ideas that are game changers), he makes the case for more collaboration in the nonprofit sector:

“The idea that one nonprofit innovator will have the best model to scale falls flat when compared to integrating several great innovations from multiple sources into a collaborative network embedded in the larger social system. For example, instead of supporting one charter school nonprofit and growing it, why not take the innovations from many charter schools and integrate their ideas into public school systems like Match does in Boston? Innovation, proven with research, often shows there is a better, logical, and cost-effective way to embed new models into a broader system.”

This call for more collaboration is integral to his theory of Transitional Philanthropy, a “21st century form of philanthropy using leveraged funding to support innovative ideas, systems, and technologies for integration into larger social systems. “

The crux of his idea is captured in the paragraph below:

“It is common for Traditional Philanthropy to permanently fund great non-profit enterprises or small demonstration projects, with the expectation they will scale in size and impact over time. There are significant limits to these models. We need a radical shift from traditional to transitional philanthropy – a 21st century form of philanthropy using leveraged funding to support innovative ideas, systems, and technologies for integration into larger social systems. Transitional Philanthropy has the potential to help drive the large-scale, systems change that is needed to reform health, education, and a broad range of social problems.”

So how can nonprofits achieve this?

Finding innovation from more than one source and applying those innovations to several similar organizations is the call to action outlined. Several examples are then touched upon within the nonprofit sub-sectors of music, global health and education.

Jeffry goes on to describe the instances where “Transitional Philanthropy” can best work. Here they are in their entirety:

  • The funding is time-bound with specific, measureable targets and goals.
  • The effectiveness of the innovation being funded has been demonstrated through research and a return on investment analysis, when possible.
  • Government partners, policy experts, and others who understand and help manage the existing system are active partners, willing to make available their resources to support the integration of the innovation into the system.
  • The organizations involved have leaders with “managed egos,” who care more about the ideas and solutions than the organizations themselves.
  • There is well-trained talent in the public entities operating the larger systems who can work with the innovative nonprofits to bring in their ideas. There are times when it is useful to fund and embed additional talent into the public organizations during the transition period.
  • A limited-life, collaborative team of “honest brokers” who act as “collaborative glue” is in place to supervise and measure progress around refinement of the innovation, confirmation of its effectiveness, and integration of it into the larger system.

Not only is collaboration expressly called for, but many of these examples would be impossible without collaboration between multiple entities.

I personally hope we see numerous examples of this superb type of collaboration attempted and then successfully completed in the future. The impact it could have would be spectacular!

Thanks Jeffry for such a vision of future collaboration for everyone in the nonprofit world to consider.

What do you think? Should nonprofits collaborate more? Let me know in the comments below!


Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.