The collaborative philanthropy of the future?
Conventional support models often don’t achieve the desired sustainable and systemic impact. But what are the alternatives? As part of a support consortium, the foreign policy think tank foraus examines the impact of collaborative support and core funding that stretches over several years.
The model of bilateral project support that often features relatively low volumes, short time horizons, fixed quantitative quantifiable results and plenty of bureaucracy when it comes to applications and reports is still the norm in Switzerland. This is based on the desire for transparency and efficiency (every franc goes to the project) or causality and attribution (our contribution has made this project happen).
This model works relatively well if you want to launch something new. But for those already working in civil society, such as the foreign policy think tank foraus, this means that they constantly have to devote significant resources to new project applications and administration instead of being able to use them strategically, flexibly and effectively to make an impact in their core business.
Alternatives that make a systemic impact
When we talk about sustainable and systemic impact, we have to consider the funding logic behind it. There are already plenty of studies that describe alternative support models. Three elements stand out: first, a shift from short-term project funding to long-term core funding of bodies that help make systemic change happen . These include think tanks and social innovation labs in particular. Second, a shift from linear thinking to agile and systemic thinking . And third, a shift from bilateral to collaborative support . But what does this look like when put into practice?
A group of support funds and foundations – including arcas foundation, Emil & Rosa Richterich-Beck foundation, Migros Pioneer Fund, Mercator Foundation Switzerland and others – have decided to test these concepts. This support consortium has been jointly supporting foraus since 2021 with core funding, which will continue for five years.
The foraus support consortium
Having a support consortium involves more than just pooling funding: foraus and the supporting institutions, some of which are very different from each other, first had to agree on a common understanding of this undertaking. This includes not only aspects such as a common definition of impact and reporting processes, but also the internal governance of the consortium, external communication and more. The goals are regularly evaluated together with the institutions and adjusted if necessary.
We’ve already noticed three positive effects of this new support model after just one year:
The focus has shifted to our core business as a foreign policy volunteer organisation. Instead of having to devote our energy to many small projects in order to survive, we can now focus on the activities that give us the most leverage.
Continuity over a longer planning horizon, which is particularly important for our employees. Until now, we have often only been able to offer them short-term, project-based contracts. We are now in a better position to retain these great people, their expertise and their networks.
Scope for strategic organisational development. Instead of project goals, we now periodically evaluate our impact as an organisation. This allows us to establish institutional learning processes and adapt our strategy flexibly.
It is important to the members of the consortium and foraus to share the knowledge acquired with the charitable sector in order to make the core support model reproducible in a low-threshold way. We look forward to other foundations joining this joint learning process.
foraus has been committed to constructive foreign policy dialogue for twelve years now. With its volunteer model, the non-profit organisation offers young thinkers and the general public a platform to jointly develop approaches for solving international challenges and to include them in policy-making. With its network, which varies from young people to decision-makers – who come from different parties, sectors, language backgrounds and countries – and its ability to bring diverse players together and participate in innovative programmes, foraus is an example of an organisation helping to bring about systemic change.