I recently wrote about collaboration, one of the most discussed words in the field of philanthropy these days, right up there with transparency and administrative cost control.
We had asked visitors to GrantStation how they felt about organizational collaboration as an aid to grantseeking, and found that the responses raised even more questions. The questions on collaboration were included in the Fall State of Grantseeking™ Survey, which runs through September 30, 2016. (Please take part.)
Here are the preliminary results, based on more than 2,000 responses so far. (There are 2,022 survey respondents as of September 13,2016; of those, 1,468 responded to the questions on collaboration, which reflected grantseeking activity during the first six months of 2016.) We will continue to analyze this trend and provide you with some guidance as you consider forming collaborative partnerships.
1. Do organizations require a certain level of annual budget and staff size to collaborate on grant applications? Does the annual budget size of the organizations involved influence grantmakers when it comes to collaborative efforts?
Yes. While small organizations do report successful collaborations, larger organizations reported the majority.
Almost 70 percent of those who had participated in collaborative grantseeking reported annual budgets of $1 million or more, vs. 39 percent of those who did not collaborate. The median annual budget of organizations that participated in a collaborative grant application was $2.2 million; the median annual budget of organizations that did not collaborate was $609,000. In addition, 20 percent of those that collaborated on grant applications reported annual budgets under $500,000, while almost half (47 percent) of those who did not collaborate on applications had budgets under $500,000.
And larger numbers of staff helped manage collaborations. Among organizations that collaborated, 63 percent employed 11 or more people, versus 38 percent of those that did not collaborate. Of those, nearly 20 percent of those that collaborated employed more than 200 people, versus 4 percent of those that did not.
My vice president, Ellen Mowrer, never met an underdog she didn’t champion. She immediately asked, “Is the trend among grantmakers to focus on collaborative awards a way to weed out smaller organizations?” I doubt it—but it is a way for funders to increase the reach and impact of their awards. Perhaps this information will encourage smaller organizations to reprioritize their time and staff with an eye toward collaboration with other nonprofit organizations.
2. Are funders looking for organizational sustainability? Does the age of the organization, and the organization’s partners, as proof of sustainability, influence grantmakers when it comes to collaborative efforts?
Yes, funders are looking for proof of sustainability, but annual budget appears to carry greater weight than organizational age as a defining factor. Organizational ages of over 50 years were reported by 31 percent of organizations that collaborated, versus 20 percent of organizations that did not collaborate. But the most frequent organizational age of 11 to 50 years was reported by 56 percent of collaborating organizations and 61 percent of organizations that did not collaborate—not a lot of variation.
It should be noted that a collaborative grant application isn’t a “sure thing.” We asked our respondents, "Did your collaborative grant application win an award?” The answer was “Yes” for 55 percent, whereas 25 percent did not win an award and 20 percent were unsure if they won an award.
As always, we asked survey respondents to share their experiences, expertise, and opinions. Here is a sampling of what those who collaborated had to say about the subject:
- Good! If we can all benefit from something I don't see why we wouldn't work together to achieve common goals.
- Most funders want to give the same amount but split it between two organizations so thus far we are losing money by collaborating.
- It's a lot of work to collaborate and frequently there is very little reward. The larger organization ALWAYS winds up doing the bulk of the application because it has more systems in place and is typically more professionalized. It can be a frustrating process. The mention of application "collaboration" elicits groans from our staff and they are the least enjoyed grants to solicit.
- Effective if working with a committed partner on a compelling project that is a good fit with funder.
- Very positive.
- Very important. The grantors greatly encourage this.
- Should be encouraged but not required.
- Collaboration makes for a more comprehensive program proposal/design. Thus, collaboration increases one's chance of being funded.
And here is a sampling of the opinions of those who did not collaborate:
- In theory, sounds great; practically, it's very difficult. We've tried in the past, but the organizations we've reached out to were very protective of their work, funding, and staff. Sadly, this is extremely difficult to do and it's very time intensive to even try and get consensus.
- If the two organizations are a mutual fit with true synergy, fine.
- It can be an excellent way to reach desired outcomes from a collaborative and community approach.
- May be beneficial, if strict guidelines are in place to assure the money is "split" evenly, allowing for maximum value to the organization(s) involved.
- With the right partners, collaboration can be transformative.
- More difficult to prepare the grant application.
- Good if the collaboration is not forced.
What struck me the most was the similarities in opinions on collaborative grantseeking from both those who collaborated and those who did not. What comes through loud and clear is that collaborative grantseeking requires more time and effort than individual grantseeking. Perhaps funders who move toward collaborative funding can include monies for staff to manage the collaboration within the award. I’m certain that this would be met with great appreciation from nonprofit organizations.
The preceding is a guest post by Cynthia Adams, CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.