“Impact enmeshed in the contribution of others” – how the Hub aims to make a difference

March 31, 2022


minute read
Jim Cooke
Head of the Funders Collaborative Hub

The Funders Collaborative Hub has a simple purpose: helping funders achieve more together.

But, of course, the reality of working for social change is complex. This complexity can make attributing impact to any specific intervention or organisation fraught with difficulty.

Funders, who are usually working towards outcomes that are achieved indirectly, through the organisations they support, can find it particularly challenging to understand their own impact. Fortunately, there are lots of resources that can help – ACF’s Stronger Foundations Impact and Learning report is a great place to start.

One of ACF’s pillars of Stronger Foundations practice is to “think collaboratively to pursue impact and advance learning”.  A foundation adopting this approach “understands collaboration in terms of the contribution it can make rather than the attribution it can prove, appreciating its limitations and its place in the wider ecosystem. A stronger foundation sees its impact enmeshed in the contributions of others.”

Understanding the impact of the Funders Collaborative Hub will also require us to recognise our place in the wider ecosystem. Just as “foundations are rarely the delivery agent nor the ones working at the front line, and should avoid appropriating the impact achieved by others”, we know that the Hub can’t claim responsibility for all the collaborative work being done by the funders who engage with us. Nor can we take credit for whatever impact these funder collaborations ultimately have on the communities or causes they aim to benefit.

Focusing on contribution rather than attribution mustn’t be used as a ‘get-out clause’ to avoid trying to identify what difference we’ve made, and how. It simply means that we need to take more account of the other factors involved in achieving any change. Our contribution to this change might prove impossible to quantify, but can still be evidenced in other ways that will help us to evaluate, learn and improve.

To find out how well the Hub is delivering its purpose, we will need to piece together enough evidence to answer two questions:

1.      What role has the Hub played in helping funders to collaborate?  

2.      How have these collaborations enabled funders to achieve more together?

The first question offers some scope to estimate the extent of the Hub’s contribution. For example, we can find out whether or not emerging opportunities shared on the Hub led to new collaborations being taken forward. We can look at whether the Hub helped existing collaborations to engage new funders or share their learning more widely.

But collaboration by funders is only a means to an end – an ‘intermediate outcome’. It should always be driven by a clear rationale for why collaborating is likely to lead to better impact than if each funder worked alone.

That’s why our second question is also vital. Unless we have credible evidence that funders’ collaborations are helping them work more effectively, we can’t be sure that the Hub’s contribution is worthwhile.

We’ll offer collaboration leaders regular check-ins to find out whether they are getting the number and type of responses they hoped for and how they are following these up

Jim Cooke
Head of Funders Collaborative Hub

Focusing our efforts

Our first step towards understanding our impact is to analyse what funders are aiming to achieve by sharing collaboration opportunities on the Hub. Comparing the progress of each opportunity with these original intentions will help us answer our first question about the Hub’s role.

We’re starting with this question because it relates directly to how we prioritise our capacity for engaging with funders. It will guide how we focus our efforts where we can make the biggest difference to helping collaboration leaders achieve their aims, while offering a lighter-touch (and more easily scalable) service where this is likely to be sufficient.

We have identified three main outcomes that funders are seeking when they share collaboration opportunities on the Hub.

1. Initiating or shaping a new funder collaboration

Of the 91 collaboration opportunities currently listed on the Hub, 17 are classed as emerging opportunities. We expect to be more actively engaged with the funders initiating these opportunities, particularly in the first few months which might be pivotal for getting a new collaboration off the ground.

Our contribution here might include:

· Helping funders to clarify and articulate the ambitions of their intended collaboration

· Signposting them to relevant practical tools or inspiring examples of other funders’ work

· Making use of the Hub’s communication channels (including our blog, newsletter and Twitter, as well as our collaboration opportunity listings) to reach other funders

· Making bespoke introductions to relevant funders or networks.

We’ll offer collaboration leaders regular check-ins to find out whether they are getting the number and type of responses they hoped for and how they are following these up. Based on this, we’ll review anything that we might do more, less or differently, to help them achieve their aims.

2.      Engaging new collaborators in existing funder collaborations

This is the most common reason for sharing a collaboration opportunity on the Hub. Our initial analysis of the 74 existing collaborations currently listed found that a large majority of these (62) are open to new funders getting involved in some way.

We’ll work with the leaders of these collaborations to understand what they are trying to achieve, how funders can engage with them and how we can best communicate this. We’ll monitor how this is going, checking in every few months to combine our own website analytics (such as how many people have viewed and engaged with each collaboration opportunity page) with feedback from the collaboration leaders.

3.      Enabling existing collaborations to work more openly and share learning more widely.

A small number of collaborations (currently 12) on the Hub aren’t seeking to engage new collaborators in their work directly, but have valuable learning to share with other funders. This might be learning about the specific issue their collaboration is working on, which the Hub can signpost to from their collaboration listing. Or it might be learning about the process of collaboration itself, which we can help them to articulate and share through our case studies.

The Hub’s engagement with leaders of these collaborations is likely to be less frequent. However, we will keep in touch enough to make sure that information being shared is up-to-date, and will use our website analytics to monitor how widely the Hub is disseminating their learning.

What next?

By tailoring our engagement with funders according to their intended outcomes, over time we hope to be able to answer our first evaluation question – what role has the Hub played in helping funders to collaborate?  

We’re now moving on to the next stage of our analysis, looking at how the collaboration opportunities on the Hub intend to enable funders to have more positive impact.

The user research we carried out with funders last year, as part of our partner Shift’s design work on the Hub, identified four main benefits that funders seek through collaboration:

· Avoiding duplication and identifying gaps

· Joining forces to tackle big, complex issues

· Finding ways to work more efficiently

· Creating spaces to engage equitably and inclusively with charities and others working on similar goals.

Over the next month, we’ll look more closely at which collaboration opportunities are working towards each of these aims, and whether there are any other major benefits of collaboration not yet covered by this list.

That will be our starting point for answering our second question – how have these collaborations enabled funders to achieve more together?

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