Leading Together for Greater Impact

06/15/2015 02:03 am ET | Updated Jun 14, 2016

Like the rest of the country, philanthropy is trying to figure out the best ways to address some of the toughest challenges facing a rapidly changing world. Foundations are looking for new and better ways to support economic growth, address climate change and its impacts, and create access to educational opportunities. These tasks may seem daunting, but philanthropy is prepared to take action, in large part because we are increasingly embracing a collaborative approach.

Philanthropy is demonstrating leadership by coming together, pooling resources and capitalizing on our own institutional strengths. I call this process Leading Together.

By organizing around a foundation's core strengths and by embracing the best thinking from the nonprofit sector, scholarship, science and business, we will be able to have a much greater impact as a community of funders than we will on our own.

Leadership and togetherness are not new ideas, but I hope that this concept will refresh our thinking about the importance of collaboration. We all have our own ways of collaborating with others, but there are four major principles that I believe must be emphasized in order to achieve success:

1. Focus on Common Purpose -- Think about issues, not institutions. We must look past ourselves to the purpose of our work and always keep in mind the people that we are trying to support.

2. Share -- Share ideas, share the journey and share accountability. And when it's due, share credit.

3. Adopt an Ecosystem Mindset -- Shift your mindset to think of the wider context within which you work and acknowledge where your individual effort fits into a larger whole.

4. Leverage Partnerships -- Play to your strengths. Collaboration is more than a division of labor. It is a partnership where the whole truly can be greater than the sum of its parts.

This type of togetherness compels us to move beyond our own personal vision and find common ground. At the recent Council on Foundations' 2015 Annual Meeting, over 1,500 foundation executives from across the world came together to focus on how philanthropy might improve its impact, and nearly every session and discussion focused on the need for smarter, easier collaboration. The conference theme of Leading Together was intended to spark a paradigm shift in philanthropy's approach, and I was glad my colleagues enthusiastically adopted this concept. It seems clear that a new consensus has emerged about the need to Lead Together.

In order to make real progress, we must harness our own individual strengths for common purpose. Aligning funding strategies and sharing resources across sectors will ensure that philanthropy's transformative impact on society will approach its full potential.

I'm particularly proud of one collaborative effort around veterans and military families, which has inspired many in the field to consider long-term collaboration in their own work.

A few years ago, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen asked the philanthropic community to prioritize funding strategies that support veterans and military families.

A diverse group from across the country -- led by Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the Lincoln Community Foundation, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation -- agreed to form a partnership and resolved to meet, strategize impactful solutions, share knowledge, and update each other on lessons learned. The Council supported this effort by creating a digital collaboration space known as the Veterans Philanthropy Exchange.

This initial group grew quickly.

Last year, over 30 foundations launched an impact pledge of over $100 million in new funding. First Lady Michelle Obama hailed the pledge as an important "first step" in honoring our national commitment to those returning from combat. Since then, the pledges have risen to over $275 million, becoming one of the largest ever philanthropic collaborations supporting veterans and their families.

The aspirations for philanthropy to lead together are not new or difficult to grasp, but the impact of collaboration couldn't possibly be greater during this time of urgency and change.

If we plan to create meaningful and lasting impact, colleagues and their institutions should reach out to each other, because we will accomplish far more leading together than we might alone.

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