CEO blog | Investing in collaboration - essential in challenging times?

27 February 2024

Carol Mack, ACF chief executive, examines the pressures on foundations' resources and how collaborations between funders may be essential in challenging times.


At ACF, our vision is of diverse, vibrant and effective foundations working together for social good. Why is the ‘working together’ part of this vision so important?

The pressures on foundations’ resources show little sign of abating. Many ACF members are striving to support civil society organisations that face a perfect storm of growing demand, rising costs, public funding cuts and a tough fundraising environment. 

In this context, foundations need to think carefully about the time and money they invest in their own operations – including their capacity to work alongside others. 

Collaboration between funders comes in many different forms, from informal information-sharing to multi-million-pound pooled funds. While these activities don’t always need to be resource-intensive, they should be driven by a clear sense of purpose: how will working together help to increase the positive impact you can make, individually and collectively?

Through ACF’s own member networks and the wider ecosystem we support through the Funders Collaborative Hub, we see plenty of evidence that foundations value the benefits of working together. 

We have also heard from wider civil society stakeholders that they recognise how effective collaboration between funders can help them respond to the many challenges they face.

Here are three ways that collaboration can help foundations rise to the challenges of our time.


Increasing efficiency 

 When finances are tight, it can be tempting to focus on the costs of collaboration, but what about the potential savings? 

 For funders who share a geographical or issue focus, sharing information and learning can reduce duplication of effort. There can also be benefits in aligning some of their processes to streamline how charities apply for multiple grants – or in some cases, pooling resources to create larger funds with reduced transaction costs.


Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

 As an area of their practice where many foundations acknowledge that they need to make significant progress, it can be particularly helpful to share the DEI journey with others.  For example, the DEI Data Standard provides a shared framework for funders to capture data that they can use to identify and target funding to address structural inequalities. 

 Collaborations can provide effective mechanisms for funders to focus on issues such as racial justice or supporting LGBTQ+ communities. Involving people with lived experience of inequalities in the governance of collaborations can also enable more equitable and inclusive engagement between funders and those they support.


Joining forces to tackle major issues

Some of the challenges facing society are so complex and systemic that it can be hard for any organisation on their own to feel like they can make a meaningful difference. This heightens the importance of each foundation thinking of themselves as part of an ecosystem and considering the best role they can play alongside others.

The climate emergency is a prime example. This is not just the preserve of environmental funders – it is a health issue, a human rights issue, an economic issue, to name but a few – and each foundation can contribute to addressing it in different ways. That’s why we’ve made climate the theme for our 2024 ACF leaders forum, and we hope the conversations at this event will stimulate further collaboration on tackling this urgent challenge of our time.


Get involved with the Funders Collaborative Hub

The Funders Collaborative Hub is a key part of ACF’s work to catalyse collaboration within the foundation sector and beyond, and to help funders work towards stronger practice. After successfully piloting the Hub over the last three years, last month we launched its new service offer for 2024

While remaining open to all funders, the Hub now offers additional benefits for ACF members, with more ways to find and connect with potential collaborators. I would encourage our members – and all other funders, from government grant-makers to individual donors – to explore the more than 160 opportunities listed on the Hub and consider how collaboration might be able to help you achieve more.

We also want to make sure that the Hub is achieving its intended impact and remains relevant for the long term. To help us do this, we’re recruiting a new Impact and Learning Advisory Group, who will inform the continued evolution of the Hub’s service over the next two years. You can read more about what’s involved and how to apply here.