Reaching Beyond Your Bubble to Forge Strong Partnerships

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
-African Proverb

At the Case Foundation we are big believers in reaching beyond our bubble to forge and foster partnerships—sometimes unlikely ones. Over the years we have seen time and again that by linking arms with new people from across sectors we can achieve far greater impact than what we could have accomplished on our own.

For example, on two America’s Giving Challenges, $900K in grants and partnerships with Network for Good, Global Giving, Causes and PARADE led to more than $4M in donations for worthwhile causes and helped to inspire the creation of similar initiatives like the $20M Pepsi Refresh Challenge and the $20M Chase Community Giving campaign.

And our investment of $1M in grants and in-kind support for the Startup America Partnership led to nearly $500M of in-kind commitments to support startups from companies like American Airlines, American Express, Microsoft, Google, and others. There are so many inspiring examples—and certainly not just our own—of successful partnerships between nonprofits, corporations and government that have unleashed billions of dollars and sparked innovation.

At events and convenings across the country this month, we will be looking for more ways to move beyond our bubble and start relationships with the potential to unlock new opportunities.

Best for the World, September 8

The Best for the World Gathering at the University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with the Haas School of Business and the Center for Responsible Business will lift up companies whose groundbreaking business models are best for workers, communities and the environment. The Case Foundation will join students and business leaders at Best for the World to build relationships and celebrate the positive impact business can have in the world.

2016 UBS Philanthropy Forum – Americas, September 12-13

I’m excited to sit down with Silvia Bastante de Unverhau the Head of Philanthropy Advisory at UBS at the UBS Philanthropy Forum to delve into innovative approaches to philanthropy. There, I will be sharing my perspectives on how financial capital can be put to work to create significant social change.

Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), September 13-16 

Being called the conference at the intersection of money and meaning, Social Capital Markets or #SOCAP16 promises to bring together more than 500 changemakers, social entrepreneurs and impact investors representing  foundations, corporations and global nonprofits. In addition to making new connections in San Francisco, members of the Case Foundation team will be leading an impact investing data session, hosting a story booth and, from the main stage, challenging common stereotypes about entrepreneurship.

Social Good Summit, September 18-19

Mashable’s Social Good Summit will examine the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives. Fully epitomizing the spirit of forging strong partnerships, the Social Good Summit brings together global leaders and grassroots activists to discuss solutions to our biggest challenges and tap the potential of technology to make the world a better place. I’m looking forward to to speaking at the Social Good Summit, helping to answer the question, “What type of world do I want to live in by the year 2030?” #2030NOW

ComNet, September 28-30

Later this month, Detroit hosts the Communications Network’s annual conference—known as the premier global leadership gathering for foundation and nonprofit leaders committed to building a better world through the smart use of strategic communications. The Case Foundation’s communications team will be there to share their own best practices and to learn, connect and collaborate.

Council on Foundations Endowments and Finance Summit, September 28-30  

I will take the stage with Vikki Spruill, President & CEO of the Council on Foundations, Dr. Jason Winged, Dean and Professor in the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University and Randall Lane, Editor of Forbes at the Council on Foundations Endowments and Finance Summit in New York City. During the session we will discuss the role of philanthropy in responding to growing community needs and for being effective catalysts for social change.

Even though it can be more comfortable to go it alone, partnerships with new players and across sectors should be embraced since more often than not, innovation happens at intersections and comes from new combinations.

If you plan on being at any of these events this month please introduce yourself. We are looking forward to reaching beyond our bubble in new and exciting ways this month.

What’s So Wrong with Nonprofits Playing by Market Rules?

Here’s the thing about markets – they have this uncanny way of being candid, sending demand signals that companies need to pay attention and adapt to in order to thrive, if not survive.

So why is it that the nonprofit sector is uncomfortable with embracing more market-based approaches to its work? This week’s feeding frenzy of articles criticizing the Council on Foundations for its experiment to host a $40,000 pitch competition to identify new organizations and approaches to drive social change is an example of this discomfort. In fact, the frenzy was so severe, that the Council decided to cancel the pitch competition and instead host a discussion on the merits and drawbacks of new approaches to grantmaking.

One of the pillars of our work at the Case Foundation is “revolutionizing philanthropy.” We believe that the practice of mobilizing private capital for public good is in need of a major reboot. In order to keep up with the pace and scope of major social challenges, the resources and tactics going into addressing these challenges and the organizations managing those resources need to be more efficient and effective. And as a sector, we need more catalytic, collaborative and creative solutions.

That’s why we’ve tested programs like the Make It Your Own Awards, the first campaign to open up a part of the grantmaking process to an online public vote. Or the America’s Giving Challenges (in 2007 and 2009), which mobilized over 150,000 donors to give $3.8M to over 14,000 causes, most of which were small and scrappy. That’s why we created the Be Fearless campaign – because we believe that in order to create more innovation in our approaches to social change, we must all take risks, embrace and learn from failure and make big bets. And that’s why we consistently provide catalytic funding to partners that are experimenting with new approaches and hoping to find breakthrough solutions and collaborations.

We’ve long championed the potential for prize and challenge programs – including initiatives like pitch competitions – to discover breakthrough innovations. We know that sometimes the people with the most innovative solutions to big problems will be found in unlikely places – just take the wedding dress designer who played a critical role in helping to dramatically improve the design of the Ebola Protective Suit worn by health care workers treating the disease, thanks to a challenge hosted by USAID’s Global Development Lab. The U.S. government has broadly embraced the use of prizes and challenges, which kicked off with the Summit on Innovation that we co-hosted with the White House in 2010, leading to the creation of, which hosts hundreds of prize and challenge competitions across 50 federal agencies. And we were proud to join some of the philanthropic sector’s leading innovators – Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Joyce Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation – in publishing a 2014 report on the ways in which incentive prizes are transforming the innovation landscape.

We love to see new practices for crowdsourcing ideas, pooling resources, disrupting old ways of doing business, testing new approaches and massively publicizing – if not competing – new programs. Why? Because, quite frankly, despite a massive amount of good accomplished with billions of nonprofit dollars, the evidence base for impact remains unsatisfying. We’re not saying that we should swing the pendulum completely toward prizes, challenges and other experimental approaches – but deploying tactics that can help us discover new ideas from unlikely places is desperately needed.

We have a saying at the Case Foundation based on an old African proverb – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. What if, instead of trashing the Council on Foundations for trying something new, we embraced it as a fearless attempt to disrupt the status quo with the hope of finding a better way? Sure, we might each have our tweaks on how to make it better (e.g., having a panel of judges, not the audience, vote on the winner). But as a tactic, it brings a fresh market-based approach and has the potential to expose innovative people and ideas to a broad community of funders, who just might decide it’s worth pooling their resources for greater and faster impact.

We look forward to the discussion on the merits of new grantmaking approaches at the Council’s conference, but we’ll wistfully be wondering what it would be like with the pitch competition in full swing, tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd” and fully embracing of the idea of democratizing philanthropy, making it easier for anyone to participate in the efforts to solve big, hairy problems.

Want to continue the conversation? Tweet us @CaseFoundation with the hashtag #CFBlog