A Statement of Values to Guide Philanthropic Collaboration

Posted 11 months ago at 10:51 pm

The Collective Impact Forum has partnered with several other field-building organizations (see list below) to identify several core values that should guide philanthropic collaboration. These principles were developed and informed by discussions among these partners and other funders and practitioners in the field. We're pleased to share these principles more broadly with the field.

A Letter to Grantmakers from Practitioners

Individual organizations seeking to address complex social issues cannot achieve their missions on their own. They must combine resources and knowledge with others to make progress. This feels especially acute for many nonprofits and grantmakers now, as many in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are considering the role they can play in addressing systems change and as these actors face a shifting and uncertain environment in the months and years ahead. 

As interest in collaboration within the philanthropic sector has increased, so has the range of models, how-to guides, case studies, and debates on best practices. There is a strong desire in the sector to ensure that collaboration is done thoughtfully, respectfully, and effectively, yet the abundance of terms, tools and frameworks can be overwhelming and confusing to grantmakers and their partners. 
For the past two years, a number of the leading organizations supporting and facilitating nonprofit and philanthropic collaborations have been coming together to share our experiences and perspectives.  Called the Collaboration Champions, this group has collectively published dozens of papers on the topic and worked with hundreds of different collaborations. We are the creators of a variety of the terms, tools and frameworks on collaboration in the field.

Through our work together, we’ve realized that there are some ethical principles, or values, we all hold in common in our approach to building and supporting successful collaborations. We articulate those principles here in hopes of sparking further conversations on values related to social sector collaboration and offering guidance on how grantmakers and nonprofits might think about approaching their own collaborative work with other foundations, nonprofits, government, private entities or some combination. These values are grounded in experience, and admittedly reflect a viewpoint of what it means to collaborate ethically in the philanthropic sector.  They are designed to be applicable to philanthropic-sponsored collaborations broadly. We focused on underlying values to guide collaboration rather than attempting to offer a synopsis or synthesis of best practices, with the understanding that others have tackled (and will continue to learn) about the practices of effective collaborations. 

Seven Ethical Principles to Collaboration in the Philanthropic Sector:

1. Each collaboration should aim to achieve a clear social good. Collaboration is not self-justifying.

2. How we collaborate is as important as the goals we seek to accomplish.  While it is important to have a goal, considerate and values-driven process matters in collaboration. The ends do not justify the means.

3. The social currency, trust and relationships that evolve as part of a collaboration are just as important as — and play a critical role in contributing to — the programmatic outcomes a collaboration seeks to achieve.

4. Collaborations should seek to elevate voices from the affected individuals/communities and provide space for their leadership.

5. Participants in collaborations should acknowledge power differentials and prioritize an active approach to dealing with them.

6. Collaboration carries explicit and implicit costs.  The principle of equity should guide resource allocations, including, where appropriate, compensating for participation.

7. Reflection and learning are deliberate acts to ensure that a collaborative is living its values and best serving the membership, the community, and the stated goal. 

We hope these principles will be helpful in a range of ways, from checking for values alignment with potential partners to providing considerations for the design of a collaboration. We ask grantmakers to consider these principles as a guide to how they approach collaboration, and we invite other practitioners in collaboration to sign on with us to help ensure that value-driven collaboration is not subordinated to, but is held jointly with, outcomes-driven collaboration. 


Arabella Advisors
The Bridgespan Group
Collective Impact Forum
Community Wealth Partners
Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
Management Assistance Group (MAG)
TCC Group
Anonymous Contributors


Ken Thompson

funder of initiatives, funder community of practice

Thanks for this, Robert. I appreciate your keeping it short and pithy, but I found myself somewhat confused about what kinds of collaboratives you are addressing here. So a couple of clarifying questions...

Is this focused on funders who are in collaborations with non-funders? With funders who are only collaborating with other funders? With funders that establish collaboratives but are not themselves a part of the collaborative? I feel like differnet values might guide those different scenarios. (Also, your list is labeled for collaborations in the "Philanthropic Sector" but the graphic is for collaborations in the "Social Sector." What do you mean by "philanthropic" in the first term?)

You also indicate that this is a "Letter to Grantmakers from Practitioners." Just curious, what kind of practitioners informed this thinking - I assume from the list at the end it's "guiders of collaborative processes" - vs., say, nonprofit service providers? I ask all this not to be nitpicky, but because I'm not clear on the kinds of collaborations you all feel these values apply to (nor am I quite sure whose viewpoints are being represented).

I also ask, in part, because I feel like a different (or additional) list is probably needed to address the particular circumstances of how funders collaborate just with each other (funder-funder collaboration), which I have probably spent too much of my career thinking about to date!

Submitted by Ken Thompson on Fri, 2017-09-29 13:45

Robert Albright

backbone organization, funder of initiatives, technical assistance provider / consultant, blogger, funder community of practice

Ken, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

That's a good catch about the "philanthropic sector" vs. "social sector" labeling, and how that could be confusing. The audience for the code of conduct was intended to be funders (primarily), but there is certainly application of these principles to nonprofits, government, business, and community members involved in different types of collaboration. There is merit in both funders and non-funders embracing these principles. 

We had discussions among this group about how explicit and detailed to be with these principles, and whether this should apply only to specific types of collaborations (e.g., funder-to-funder, funder with other sectors). Ultimately, the group decided that the ethical principles should have relevance aross many types of collaboration, recognizing that other helpful resources exist on specific types of collaboration that can provide more detail. I agree with you that if you chose a specific type of collaboration (e.g., funder collaboration or grassroots coalitions), the principles could be more specific to that type of collaboration. 

The group of nonprofit service providers and field-building entities signing this code of conduct represent the primary perspectives who informed this code of conduct. However, the group also vetted these principles with funders and practitioners at various meetings and convenings over the past few months (e.g., at the United Philanthropy Forum's annual conference in July). 

My hope is that the principles will prompt dialogue (like this exchange on the CI Forum's website!) about what is missing from these principles -- and where there might need to be greater clarity depending on your role and the type of collaboration you are working on. Thanks again for your comments!

Submitted by Robert Albright on Fri, 2017-09-29 16:44

Jared Raynor

technical assistance provider / consultant

I second what Robert said.  I think Ken has raised some really important questions, some of which the group discussed a lot and some which were not directly discussed.  It seems to me that these seven principles should be broadly applicable to the philanthropic sector as a base from which to refine more specific principles for different types of collaboratives, such as funder-funder collaborations.  With a common agreement that considering ethical principles should be a core part of collaboration, regardless of whom it is between, I'm interested to hear what some of the additional items Ken (and others) would put on the list for different groups!

Submitted by Jared Raynor on Mon, 2017-10-02 09:23

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