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Case Study: Emergent Philanthropy

A new article in the Foundation Review describes the tools we used in partnership with Harder+Company and The Civic Canopy to support an adaptable design for The Colorado Health Foundation’s (TCHF) Creating Healthy Schools funding strategy.

The article dives deep into the principles of emergent philanthropy, and how TCHF worked to co-create their strategy, funding and process with key stakeholders and grantees in Colorado’s school system.

One important lesson learned? When one funder shifts its funding approach to be more emergent, it can put a burden on grantees who are still responding to the more traditional expectations of their other funders. It’s also really hard for one funder to solve all the shifting issues in a complex system.

Enter collective emergent philanthropy – a process where multiple funders combine efforts to help solve a problem through an emergent approach guided by a systems-level collaborative.

By collaborating with other funding partners interested in addressing a systems issue at the outset, funders can:

  1. Better focus a complex field by pooling and leveraging resources;
  2. Disperse power and mitigate vested interests; and
  3. Further strengthen and build partnerships to adapt to new challenges and continuously improve efforts.

Read more about TCHF’s implementation of an emergent philanthropy philosophy in Insights from Deploying a Collaborative Process for Funding Systems Change.

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For the Good of the Group: Be Nice, Respond in Kind, Be Forgiving

When working to change complex systems it can be difficult for individual stakeholders to engage in authentic collaboration. This is neuroscience. We are all motivated to move away from perceived threats and toward perceived reward. Bringing multiple actors together to work toward a common goal can create conflict between doing what is best for the individual organization and doing what is best for the system.

In the latest issue of The Foundation Review, we’ve shared tools on how to navigate this difficult terrain using an on-the-ground example: The Colorado Health Foundation’s (TCHF) Creating Healthy Schools funding strategy. TCHF engaged Spark, as well as Harder+Company and The Civic Canopy to support an emergent approach to design and implement the strategy.

Here are some highlights on how to help stakeholders align their work and build inclusive engagement and partnership:

  • Lead stakeholders to a shared understanding of systems thinking and how it translates to systems acting.
  • Leverage a neutral facilitator.
  • Engage on-the-ground perspectives to involve those who will be most impacted by the change.
  • Support increased communication between systems-level and on-the-ground groups.
  • Develop clear function-group goals.
  • Be transparent about what you are doing, how you are approaching the problem, and how decisions are made.

Read more about TCHF’s implementation of an emergent philanthropy philosophy in Insights from Deploying a Collaborative Process for Funding Systems Change.