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Innovations in philanthropy: collaboration

By Rachel Wharton 22 October 2014

For the second blog of the series, I want to highlight another incredibly important trend that shone through our research—collaboration. It’s not new, but it is growing and evolving.

One form of collaboration in philanthropy is giving circles. Again, these have been around for decades, particularly in the US where over 600 such circles involve over 12,000 people. But what is exciting about the current phase, is the way in which the idea is being replicated across the world, adapted to local contexts, and emerging in improved models.

Dasra Giving Circles, from India, are a great example of this. They  have a similar structure to others across the world—bringing together a group of donors committed to a particular cause. What is innovative is the upfront research that enables the circle to maximise its impact and overcome donors’ trust issues, combined with the funder-plus support for portfolio organisations. Each circle focuses on a specific issue, such as child malnutrition, sex trafficking or girl-child education, and is comprised of ten philanthropists who each agree to commit about US$50,000 over three years to fund, build capacity and monitor a particular organisation.

Dasra spends eight to twelve months on research and due diligence before giving any funding. This enables it to identify gaps in the sector, understand how to address an issue and find effective organisations in India working in that area. Dasra then creates a shortlist of organisations by examining their impact and potential to be scaled up, and helps them create three to five year business plans to present to the giving circle. Circle members choose one organisation to fund for the next three years. During this funding period, Dasra provides capacity-building support to the organisation on strategy, impact assessment, finance and fundraising. Circle members are updated on organisations’ progress quarterly, but can engage further with the organisation if they wish. The process of setting up a circle is so thorough that it overcomes issues of trust and security in giving; often significant barriers for individual donors in India.

By establishing a strong knowledge base in a particular area, Dasra helps donors give more strategically—particularly to issues that receive less funding due to lack of awareness and knowledge. Detailed analysis and comprehensive due diligence mean donors are confident their giving will make an impact, and Dasra’s continued support to organisations reassures donors that their chosen project will be sustainable.

Although giving circles already exist in the UK, we think they could be improved by learning from Dasra. The Dasra model is a powerful one and could work particularly well with issues seen as ‘difficult’, such as violence against women, human trafficking or substance abuse. We think these circles have significant potential to encourage new donors to the field as well as helping existing donors connect deeply to a cause and to other donors—and at the same time making better funding decisions and scaling up effective organisations.

Learn more about the #10innovations selected for our research here.