Collaborative Funding: Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Collaborative Funding: Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

This blog was written by Bill Pitkin, the Director of Domestic Programs at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and was originally featured on the Funders Together's website.

A group of funders in Los Angeles—both philanthropic and public― recently announced  a single $42 million Request for Proposals (RFP) for projects providing housing and supportive services for people identified as chronically homeless.  The RFP will distribute $5 million in private funds contributed by 11 different philanthropic funders and $37 million in public funds contributed by seven agencies across two cities and the county. It is anticipated that these funds will leverage an additional $33 million in public resources after the grants are awarded.

Isn't this the same Los Angeles that has long been characterized as dysfunctional in its governance, lacking philanthropic leadership, and fractured in collaborative spirit?

Stakeholders in Los Angeles have been able to overcome this stereotype through active, patient efforts to create systems change, and philanthropy has been at the center of it. Over the past eight years, philanthropic organizations have been working to build capacity in the public and nonprofit sectors to better align housing, health, and other systems. Providers and public sector leaders have responded with increased attention and funding for permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless residents of Los Angeles. City and county agencies have collaborated on funding supportive housing, and providers are integrating outreach, health, and housing efforts to help the neediest access and stay in housing. Philanthropy has been a quiet partner in many of these efforts; most recently it stepped forward to encourage stakeholders to consciously align our collective resources to create a more predictable and efficient system for funding supportive housing efforts.

Over the past couple years, the LA Homeless Funders Group, a regional affiliate of Funders Together, has been learning about and discussing the concept of pooling our philanthropic funds to incentivize aligned funding from our public sector partners.  Although this type of alignment has happened on an ad hoc basis, grantees remained frustrated with having to go separately to dozens of funders to allow them to do the important work of helping move people from the streets into supportive housing. Moreover, for those of us seeking quantifiable declines in the numbers of persons on our streets and in shelters, there was no common method for coordinating our resources to do so.

In 2010, a new opportunity emerged with the release of the Home For Good Action Plan, which quickly garnered broad support to end chronic and veteran homelessness in Los Angeles County by 2016.  Currently at more than 100 signatories, the plan has for the first time given the nonprofit, public, business, and philanthropic sectors in Los Angeles a common approach to addressing homelessness to rally around. For years, there had been talk among other public and private funders about creating a coordinated funding mechanism, but learning from other Funders Together members, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we came to the conclusion that it might take philanthropy to catalyze such an effort.  In August 2010, the board of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation approved a $1 million challenge grant to seed the Funders Collaborative.  As evidenced in the release of the RFP, the response by philanthropy and our public funding partners has been rapid and overwhelmingly positive.

United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which issued the Home For Good Action Plan in partnership with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, has very ably led the process of developing the RFP and is managing the pooled philanthropic funds.  An engaged workgroup of public and private funders― including those who are contributing funds through the RFP, but also others who have not contributed this year but have expressed interest in possibly doing so in the future―have worked diligently to develop the values and funding priorities in the RFP. We look forward to announcing funding decisions in July and will keep partners across the country informed of our challenges, progress and lessons learned through Funders Together and other venues.

We do not have any illusions that the Funders Collaborative on its own will solve the vexing problem of homelessness in Los Angeles, and it hasn't emerged in a vacuum. Rather, it is the result of years of work by committed stakeholders across public, philanthropic, and provider sectors. They have made progress, but needed a little push to do the difficult work of pooling and aligning funding toward a common goal. That is a perfect role for philanthropy and, we believe, a bet worth making.


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