Cross-sector collaboration: Anchoring in a Sea of Change

blogimage_SeaofChangePhilosophers and practitioners alike can agree that the only thing that is constant is change. This notion rings true for designers and managers of impactful social programs who often grapple with changes in funding streams, staff turnover, and neighborhood population shifts that require them to re-evaluate the fundamental pillars of their programs to ensure they remain sustainable and appropriate. These changes are common across all sectors, but may have more detrimental effects on relatively young cross-sector collaborations where partners are not only tackling historically difficult issues, but also learning about each other’s sector-specific work cultures and regulations as they go.

Katherine Fulton, President of the Monitor Institute and keynote speaker at the Social Impact Exchange’s 2012 annual conference, discussed three disruptions that the field of philanthropy has experienced over the last five years and will continue to experience in some form or another for decades to come:

  • A disruption in who is giving
  • A disruption in the traditional role of government
  • A disruption in technology.

She explained that the sources of wealth in the United States are changing and that hi-tech and finance industry leaders are increasingly becoming new donors, pledging large sums of money to mission-driven organizations. Meanwhile, government institutions are also experiencing significant changes as they try to respond to economic downturns and changing institutional roles and capacities. Technological innovations have revolutionized the capabilities for data gathering and sharing and have opened up possibilities for new forms of interaction on a global scale.

These disruptions present both opportunities and challenges for cross-sector collaborations as they work to respond and adapt to changing funding, service, and political landscapes. A decade from now the philanthropic landscape and the types of initiatives that will receive funding may be very different from what they are today. Savvy cross-sector practitioners will remain aware of these larger trends as they design, implement, and scale up projects and programs that depend on multiple funding streams and shifting political will. Improving data sharing platforms will be of the utmost importance to ensure that programs can operate effectively and continue to serve the populations in need. Collaborations should ultimately aim to institutionalize their efforts in ways that make them indispensable and sustainable in their communities, like a buoy in rough waters. How will your initiative weather the storm?