Defining Collaboration Broadly: Lessons from a JFN-JCF Event in Jerusalem

On February 17, 2016, JFN held a joint event in Jerusalem with the Jewish Communal Fund. I was very moved by the partnership between the two organizations as I am both a JFN member and have a donor advised fund at JCF. As I looked around the room, I noticed quite a few familiar faces of people who were not JFN members, yet were clearly connected with JCF. Perhaps this was their first time attending a funder’s only networking event.

The formal part of the evening was divided between a theory-based presentation, by JFN Israel’s director Maya Natan, about philanthropic partnerships and an interview of two funders—Noam Lautman and myself, David Roth—who are interested in such partnerships. I believe that the combination of theory and practice made the evening a huge success for the attendees.

One of the key messages from the event was that there are many different types of collaboration, and funders need not feel pressured to give away all of their charitable funds through some sort of formal collaboration. Rather, giving away money in a more traditional way can still be strategic and is still very important for society. Entering into a philanthropic collaboration has its pros and cons and depends on what you are trying to achieve, the scope of the issue, your style, and who else is involved. My advice is that a funder should set aside a certain percentage of the allocations budget for the collaboration such that s/he can still make grants independently. 

Entering into a collaboration means being open to doing things differently, letting go of your ego, sharing, learning and exploring with others, being patient, okay with uncertainty, and a certain degree of faith in the ability to achieve something that wouldn’t be possible were you to try to go it alone.

My family’s foundation, Yoreinu, has been interested in working in collaboration with other funders for over four years, unfortunately, without much success—until now. About six months ago we began discussions with two other family foundations about promoting humanistic values education in Israel’s religious Zionist sector. At some point we met with Maya Natan, and she recommended that we hook up with another philanthropic collaboration, which was also being set up around the same time by the Lautman Fund, the San Francisco Federation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. This philanthropic collaboration is but one component in the planned collective impact initiative called “Living Together in Israel,” which aims to explore and promote ways for Israel’s deeply divided society to learn how to live together without encouraging various sectors to shed their identity. Just one day before the JCF-JFN event, we participated with about sixty philanthropists at the launching event of this collaboration that included secular, religious, Haredi, and Arab funders.

Should funders be proactive or reactive in seeking partners? I believe it depends on the extent to which collaboration is critical to the funder as well as on the opportunities that present themselves. It’s possible that one of the reasons as to why we were unsuccessful in attracting other funders to join us in a partnership was that our agenda was being defined too narrowly, in our case within the confines of our mission – which is focused on Israel’s religious Zionist sector. Once we were willing to broaden our agenda to the level of our vision – which is focused on Israel being a Jewish, democratic and just society based on shared ethical values – we were able to see that partnering with the Lautman Fund made a lot of sense.

We believe that the major benefits of working in partnership are an increased likelihood that the issues or need will be addressed more successfully due to the convening of numerous people with various experiences, skills and knowledge. Resources are leveraged and duplication is greatly reduced. Operating alone is perhaps more beneficial if your main purpose is to donate money to charitable organizations and leave it at that. However, if you want to be a more pro-active player in the field, assist the nonprofit actors and influence the outcomes, then a funding collaborative or partnership makes a lot more sense. Trying to do this while acting alone means limited resources, limited knowledge, connections, and clout, which means the chances of success are greatly reduced.

One final note: collaboration is not a synonym for fund-raising. Funders should not directly solicit other funders for a particular organization. However, if one funder asks another for recommendations of which organizations to fund, then by all means, share what you know. Collaboration is really about engaging in a dialogue quite a few steps prior to grant-making. It’s about sharing and discussing your values, vision, priorities, goals, methods, and experiences. Ultimately, the discussion might very well be about which organizations to fund, but this conversation will be vastly different from an unsolicited request to donate to someone’s pet project.

This joint event was a wonderful opportunity to network with donors who may have been new to JFN-style networking. It provided pertinent information—both theoretical and first-hand experiences—about philanthropic partnerships, and hopefully will be the beginning of an enhanced funder’s network in the Jerusalem area and increased partnership between JCF donors and the JFN.

The author, David Roth, would be happy to answer questions and be in touch. He can be reached at +972-50-538-2353 or [email protected].