Collaboration is Humming

DebDubin.headshotby Deb Dubin, CEO & President, Gateway Center for Giving

Everyone is humming about collaboration in our sector.  It means different things to different people, and there’s a good reason to take a closer look. When it works, the behavior can help us by strengthening programs, improving efficiency, and sharing knowledge. As I consider these benefits, among others, I’m reminded of a wonderful African proverb:

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

At Gateway Center for Giving, we’re always looking for ways to make collaboration easier for our members, so they can make the biggest impact with the resources that they steward. Our members currently represent approximately $3.7 billion in charitable assets, of which about $261 million is distributed in the St. Louis region annually, making philanthropic activity a significant part of the civic fabric. I see a great amount of optimism and an eagerness to tackle our region’s most pressing problems by learning and working together.

What does that mean from a funder’s perspective? It can mean joining with other funders to invest in fostering change. In the wake of regional unrest, the Regional Business Council  recently served as the catalyzing agent for a group of donors and civic leaders who created the Reinvest North County Fund, which raised $900,000 to support small local businesses and school districts during a critical time for recovery and growth.

It can also mean funders collaborate directly with nonprofits, like the Express Scripts Foundation did when they envisioned and implemented the Nance Elementary Transformation Plan. To effect change at this under-resourced St. Louis public school, they brought together eight unrelated youth-serving nonprofit agencies, identified key challenges, and coordinated ongoing wrap-around services for students in need. Leadership hopes to replicate this hands-on model elsewhere.

Creating these kinds of partnerships takes time, research, and a willingness to show up and listen. I often refer funders to important resources that can help provide important context what’s going on in our region, pointing to documents like the For the Sake of All Report,  a study anchored by researchers at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. I think the Ferguson Commission Report should be required reading for anyone doing community-based work in St. Louis. And we offer a Collaboration Directory to our members to show them who is already tackling work in their interest areas, thereby encouraging them to find existing models that might fit with their own giving strategies.

The Gateway Center for Giving is also engaged in our own cross-sector collaborations. We team up with our friends at NSC on training and programming aimed at elevating opportunities for nonprofits in our region. Our shared commitment to support positive community change makes us logical allies.  (Take a peek at the Community Training Calendar on their website to learn more about these collaborative sessions).  We’re humming in harmony.


The Gateway Center for Giving is a philanthropic membership organization consisting of 80 charitable foundations and others donating their time, talent and treasure to nonprofit organizations in the state of Missouri and beyond. We are an integral part of a national philanthropic network comprised of 33 Regional Associations of Grantmakers around the country, with more than 5500 participating organizations, making it the largest network in American philanthropy. Collectively, we focus on helping the philanthropic sector be more strategic, more collaborative, and ultimately, to have the greatest impact with limited resources. Learn more here: