Collaboration is an unnatural act between two nonconsenting adults

That is not my quote, but a one a colleague, Joyce Strom, suggested many years ago. Collaborations have been on my mind a lot lately. The challenging, messy, frustrating, rewarding — and did I say frustrating (!) time we spend collaborating.  We may hate them and throw our hands up in frustration, but in our heart of hearts we know that collaboration is the only thing that is going to move us forward to address the issues we want to solve.

I was able to attend the Council on Foundations annual conference recently. We are members of this national, professional organization for foundations across the country. The organization has streamlined, downsized and refocused due to changes in our field and changes in its leadership. This conference marked the first year that community foundations across the country did not have their “own” conference. Rather, all types of foundations – private, public, corporate, family and community now came together under one umbrella. It was one conference entitled Leading Together– Hope and Opportunity in a Destabilized World.

For a while, I have been skeptical of some of these changes and had a secret belief that community foundations were very different from other funders and that our needs would not be met in this larger forum. Yes, I was even a bit judgmental. (ME???)

I have to tell you that I was wrong. This conference provided context for issues that attendees needed to discuss together — and join together to plan.  I was able to see that all funders are struggling with how best to address issues facing our communities. We may all come at them differently. But we all want the same thing: healthy, vibrant communities.

Each of us has been involved in collaborations or co”blab”orations as I have heard them called recently. We all know the ones: those that were never collaborative from the beginning, but were simply the work of one strong individual or organization. Those that were not worth the time we spent to attend a meeting. Things have changed — the playing field is broader. Not only do we have the opportunity to collaborate across sectors, but also county, state and even international borders. The necessary first step of this is willingness.

Funders have to work together. No longer can we work in our own silos focusing on our own issues. I was able to see the issues and challenges I shared with others and saw the potential to bring forward solutions together. Solutions that are simply not possible alone. We have large challenges facing our communities, and one funder, or one organization cannot address all of them. 

The importance of working together cannot be stressed enough. We support many collaborative efforts across North Carolina — but we are also involved in collaborative efforts on a daily basis. These collaborations make us smarter, work harder and our dollars go farther.  We are willing.