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This blog post was updated by MAG on September 25, 2017.

At MAG, we see the growing complexity of today’s problems as a call to collaborate and connect, and to do so in ever-more effective, equitable ways. In our work with change makers across sectors, we are committed to drawing upon the wisdom from the past, freeing our imaginations to experiment anew, and embracing the necessity of collaboration to fuel transformative change. Together, we’re seeing what’s possible when we connect across divides, overcome habits and practices that hold us back, and re-make strategies and systems together to ensure the well-being of all. Together, we’re aiming to embody the kind of thoughtful, ethical and equitable collaboration that can fundamentally remake our world into one of love, dignity and justice for all. 

As part of our efforts to support equitable, effective collaboration, MAG was pleased to come together with a group of peer organizations to develop seven core principles to guide philanthropic collaboration in particular. The act of coming together was also the act of applying these principles. When we came together the first time, it was wonderful to meet people from organizations we had heard about but hadn’t had the opportunity to get to know. Yet, all of us had different interests, goals, values, power, and resources as well as varying types of constraints around voicing intentional stances. Through our collaboration we developed relationships and trust, broke through competitive pressures, and tackled what we could do that was meaningful and would have impact on those most directly impacted by many of the social change initiatives we support. We made commitments to follow through in our organizations to apply and share these principles that worked so well for us in this collaboration and that we have seen in successful philanthropic collaborations.  

We’re happy to share the full, collaborative (!) statement below, and hope that you’ll share with others as well—especially the grantmakers in your lives.

A Statement of Values to Guide Philanthropic Collaboration

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 Guide 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
Collective Impact Forum
Community Wealth Partners
Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
Management Assistance Group (MAG)
TCC Group
Anonymous Contributors

Banner photo credit: Abigail Keenan, Unsplash

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