Funder collaboration: Key ingredients and ones to avoid

Event date: 
November 17, 2020

The event was introduced by Max Rutherford, ACF's Head of Policy, who emphasised that thinking and acting collaboratively can strengthen the contribution of funders, which is valuable as the pandemic has made it especially important for funders to be ambitious and effective with all their resources. A short poll of attendees at the start of the event revealed that almost all view collaboration as important to their work in the long term.

Genevieve Ford-Saville, Grants Manager at Henry Smith Charity, chaired the event. She briefly reflected on her own positive experiences of funder collaboration, as Co-Chair of the Funders for Race Equality Alliance, and as part of Henry Smith Charity’s nine-year collaboration with Esmée Fairbairn, and underlined that there are no collaboration experts – we are all sharing and learning.

Based on IVAR's research on the topic of collaboration, Director and Co-Founder Ben Cairns set out the most important ingredients for effective funder collaboration. Ben highlighted the need for shared purpose and vision, effective leadership and infrastructure, and a safe space that allows for reflection and acknowledges the human emotions of collaboration. He noted that emergency responses show it’s possible for funders to work outside silos, but this needs to be a permanent feature of the sector. Ben cautioned that collaborations take time and effort and the best collaborations are usually driven by strong interpersonal relationships.

Esther Hughes, Executive Director of Global Dialogue, offered a typology of funder collaboration – ranging from loose to tight – and gave real-life examples of the types of collaborations on the spectrum, such as Migration Exchange and Community Justice Fund. She also laid out seven key success factors across all collaborations - many of which paralleled Ben’s most important ingredients - adding equity, trust, and transparency to the list. She encouraged all to try funder collaboration: “It's difficult, but the benefits of doing it almost always outweigh the costs over time.”

The Hub’s interim project lead, Rob Abercrombie, shared five observations based on the collaborations he has been involved in. He stressed that collaboration is a means not an end, that it takes many forms, and that it can be a mix of positive and negative experiences. Rob acknowledged the value of leadership in providing a framework, and of the “zone of uncomfortable debate” as a way of building trust. Collaboration is central to tackling complex social problems, Rob explained, so why should we expect it to be easy when social change is not easy?

Rob finished by sharing key elements of the hub: the collaboration opportunities, funder collaboration tools, events, and the human aspect through which we hope to make connections between funders and provide support. If you are thinking about collaboration at whatever stage, or have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch and we will do our best to help. You can reach us at or tweet at @FunderHub

Learning and Resources