The 3 C’s of environmental philanthropy - valuing collaboration, collective impact and communication

By: Amanda Martin, CEO, Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN)

I love my job! As I write this I’ve just gotten off the phone with Jennie Curtis from the Garfield Foundation in the US and I feel so inspired. Jennie has been working on big, audacious projects using a collective impact and collaborative approach. Jennie knows about collaboration and collective impact from both a practical and a philanthropic perspective and is the first person that I’ve spoken to that could really make sense of how “collective impact” works. What a rare being!

In 2003, Jennie proposed that the Garfield Foundation apply a systems thinking approach to at least one sector to better understand and solve a specified entrenched problem, and to build stronger collaborative partnerships within philanthropic and advocate communities. This resulted in the Garfield Foundation supporting and catalysing the RE-AMP Network - comprising a coalition of 170 organizations across eight states in the US’s upper Midwest – which has been focused on just one audacious goal: reducing regional global warming emissions by 80 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2050.

And it’s working.  

Today the Garfield Foundation have just established a new collaborative network – The Cancer Free Economy -  and are investing over $1M per year on the network design and implementation including the cost of convening and facilitation, systems analysis, identified gap research, and related grant making.

According to Jennie, “Applying a systematic and collaborative approach to complex issues appears to me to be one of the most effective and efficient ways to deal with these ‘wicked’ problems. And from a philanthropic perspective it does all those things that we are supposed to be – leads the way, uses independence to bring together diverse stakeholders, provides a big audacious goal and applies influence and money to achieve long-lasting and game changing outcomes”.

Jennie had lots to share with me about her experiences along the way. Including the following tips:

  • Invest in capacity and infrastructure! Don’t get bogged down by ‘project’ versus staff costs. It takes people to get things done;
  • Balance the power dynamic of those with the money versus those implementing the work on-ground;
  • Stay involved for a sustained period of time;
  • Allow errors to inform next steps; and
  • Share the credit.

The Garfield Foundation made its money after Brian Garfield patented the process for extracting lanolin-cholesterol from sheep's wool without harming the sheep, way back in the 1950s. Today, the Garfield Foundation supports organisations inspired and managed by committed leaders who demonstrate the skills and passion to solve complex problems through strategies like systems thinking, innovative models and strategic collaborations.  A private grant maker, the Foundation supports initiatives that are designed for collective impact to accelerate systemic-level change.  The ultimate goal: a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable world.   

Come to the AEGN 2015 Conference in Melbourne to hear Jennie give a keynote speech on the Tuesday 1 September or join us for her masterclass on what makes collective impact work on Wednesday 2 September. The AEGN conference is open to all funders, not grantseekers.  You do not necessarily need to be currently funding in the environment and much of what we will explore can also be applied to other issues.

Aug. 14, 2015

 Tags: environment, collaboration

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