Photo: Sarah Zak Borgman speaks at Skoll World Forum // Photo Credit: Skoll Foundation
Throughout my career, I have continually found myself leading environments of people who crave community. I didn’t seek these opportunities, but rather, I think they found me. As someone who desires to contribute to, and be enlightened by the people around me, I intuitively believe that when the right group of people come together true impact can reach levels beyond what any one individual can achieve on their own. Call it the Margaret Mead effect. Plus, let’s face it, it’s just much more fun to tackle large, thorny goals with some trusted thought partners at your side. Bonus if they have a sense of humor.
Not that it’s always easy. Baked into the recipe is the need for diverse viewpoints and stakeholders, which can sometimes create ‘positive conflict’ — also known as friction. But as we all know, it’s friction and pressure that ultimately produces diamonds.
At Philanthropy Together, I am working with global communities to create sustainable and equitable social progress by democratizing and diversifying philanthropy through the power of collective giving. These communities of collective givers hold the promise of unlocking more resources, from more people, to address challenges on all areas of the issue and scale spectrum.
Peer persuasion and the promise of achieving more impact than isolated giving, are keys to the massive growth of both giving circle and collaborative giving communities. As was said by some smart, ambitious person somewhere,“ if you aren’t looking to collaborate, you probably aren’t thinking big enough.”
As I look to create value in the burgeoning collective giving field through peer convenings, community building and amplifying lessons learned, here are some heard-earned gems I’ve learned about collective communities producing diamonds over the last 20 years:
- Enduring change moves at the speed of trust. Trust is at the heart of any relationship and trust is built by being in proximity with one another. Sharing the successes and pain points, being vulnerable with one another…sharing the scare. This takes time, but it is rewarding and necessary. You can maybe skip the ‘trust falls’ – but don’t skip the bonding exercises that bring people closer together emotionally and intellectually.
- Leave your ego at home. Collective action requires that stakeholders are committed to equity, inclusion, and most of all, shared credit. One reason why giving circles and collaborative funds are moving resources further, faster, is the desire to prioritize aligned goals and community needs, over individual recognition. If you want to put your name on a building, there are vehicles for that. But don’t expect to solve the world’s most entrenched problems alone.
- Bring people together. In person, if possible. Being in person again has reignited core values of cooperation, belonging, and authentic fellowship. Seeing everyone in 3-D has re-awakened our ability to read non-verbal cues, feel the room, and ultimately move a group toward a shared goal much faster than our distracted, online selves (sorry Zoom).
- Don’t overlook the delightful. Let’s not forget we are all human. With that, we can expect daily stressors, annoying challenges and tasky/grindy elements EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. So, let’s counteract the predictable and build in delightful reasons why we want to work in a collective environment. Fun food! Online Avatars! Inspiring speakers! Engineered serendipity! In the spirit of Priya Parker– the list is endless. And will be endlessly appreciated.
- Keep the party going. A clear silver lining of COVID is that there is virtually no reason why we can’t keep in touch. (Yes, I used that word intentionally.) Slack channels, online happy hours, advisory committee meetings, you name it, and it can be accomplished with the technological infrastructure a lot of us have put in place at home. While there is no substitute for in-person meetings, IMHO, we have learned that keeping in touch through an online environment can increase trust, productivity and ultimately the impact we are all seeking.
In the next several years as we embark on the expansion and acceleration of this collective giving journey, I anticipate there will be joyful, grindy, triumphant, delightful, tension-filled diamond creating results from our collaborative work together. And I can’t wait!
Sarah Zak Borgman
Sarah Zak Borgman has spent 20+ years in community building and convening, most recently at the Skoll Foundation curating the Skoll Community of Awardees and the Skoll World Forum, as well as the Peace Corps, Girl Scouts and the Clinton Administration.