A Statement of Values to Guide Philanthropic Collaboration

IMG_7459 v3.jpg

At MAG, we see the growing complexity of today’s problems as a call to collaborate and connect, and to do so in ever-more effective, equitable ways. In our work with change makers across sectors, we are committed to drawing upon the wisdom from the past, freeing our imaginations to experiment anew, and embracing the necessity of collaboration to fuel transformative change. Together, we’re seeing what’s possible when we connect across divides, overcome habits and practices that hold us back, and re-make strategies and systems together to ensure the well-being of all. Together, we’re aiming to embody the kind of thoughtful, ethical and equitable collaboration that can fundamentally remake our world into one of love, dignity and justice for all. 

As part of our efforts to support equitable, effective collaboration, MAG was pleased to come together with a group of peer organizations to develop seven core principles to guide philanthropic collaboration in particular. We’re happy to share the full, collaborative (!) statement below, and hope that you’ll share with others as well—especially the grantmakers in your lives.

A Statement of Values to Guide Philanthropic Collaboration
A Letter to Grantmakers from Practitioners

Individual organizations seeking to address complex social issues cannot achieve their missions on their own. They must combine resources and knowledge with others to make progress. This feels especially acute for many nonprofits and grantmakers now, as many in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are considering the role they can play in addressing systems change and as these actors face a shifting and uncertain environment in the months and years ahead.  

As interest in collaboration within the philanthropic sector has increased, so has the range of models, how-to guides, case studies, and debates on best practices. There is a strong desire in the sector to ensure that collaboration is done thoughtfully, respectfully, and effectively, yet the abundance of terms, tools and frameworks can be overwhelming and confusing to grantmakers and their partners.  

For the past two years, a number of the leading organizations supporting and facilitating nonprofit and philanthropic collaborations have been coming together to share our experiences and perspectives. Called the Collaboration Champions, this group has collectively published dozens of papers on the topic and worked with hundreds of different collaborations. We are the creators of a variety of the terms, tools and frameworks on collaboration in the field.

Through our work together, we’ve realized that there are some ethical principles, or values, we all hold in common in our approach to building and supporting successful collaborations. We articulate those principles here in hopes of sparking further conversations on values related to social sector collaboration and offering guidance on how grantmakers and nonprofits might think about approaching their own collaborative work with other foundations, nonprofits, government, private entities or some combination. These values are grounded in experience, and admittedly reflect a viewpoint of what it means to collaborate ethically in the philanthropic sector.  They are designed to be applicable to philanthropic-sponsored collaborations broadly. We focused on underlying values to guide collaboration rather than attempting to offer a synopsis or synthesis of best practices, with the understanding that others have tackled (and will continue to learn) about the practices of effective collaborations. 

Seven Ethical Principles to Guide Collaboration in the Philanthropic Sector:

  1. Each collaboration should aim to achieve a clear social good. Collaboration is not self-justifying.

  2. How we collaborate is as important as the goals we seek to accomplish.  While it is important to have a goal, considerate and values-driven process matters in collaboration. The ends do not justify the means.

  3. The social currency, trust and relationships that evolve as part of a collaboration are just as important as — and play a critical role in contributing to — the programmatic outcomes a collaboration seeks to achieve.

  4. Collaborations should seek to elevate voices from the affected individuals/communities and provide space for their leadership.

  5. Participants in collaborations should acknowledge power differentials and prioritize an active approach to dealing with them.

  6. Collaboration carries explicit and implicit costs.  The principle of equity should guide resource allocations, including, where appropriate, compensating for participation.

  7. Reflection and learning are deliberate acts to ensure that a collaborative is living its values and best serving the membership, the community, and the stated goal.  

We hope these principles will be helpful in a range of ways, from checking for values alignment with potential partners to providing considerations for the design of a collaboration. We ask grantmakers to consider these principles as a guide to how they approach collaboration, and we invite other practitioners in collaboration to sign on with us to help ensure that value-driven collaboration is not subordinated to, but is held jointly with, outcomes-driven collaboration.  


Arabella Advisors
Collective Impact Forum
Community Wealth Partners
Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
Management Assistance Group (MAG)
TCC Group
Anonymous Contributors


Image by Community Wealth Partners

Linking Arms against White Supremacy and Standing Up to Hate

We, at MAG, stand in solidarity with the resisters and activists who fought against the neo-Nazis and white nationalists in Charlottesville, VA. This moment is a reminder that all nonprofits - including MAG - can more fully wield our power to dismantle white supremacy.

Our organization focuses on healing and resilience with an eye towards the long arc of love, dignity, and justice. One step towards healing and resiliency is acknowledging the truth of this present moment.

Read More

Inner Work as a Pathway to Collective Equity and Pleasure

As MAG staff continuously deepens our own learning and practice in the five elements that we believe are critical to a thriving justice ecosystem, we will be sharing more from our individual learning journeys alongside other kinds of learning. In this blog, Alison Lin, consultant with MAG, shares reflections inspired by Sheryl Petty's Catalyst Conversation at Confluence.

by Alison Lin

What happens when individually or collectively we are numb to equity?

Sheryl Petty, a senior consultant at MAG invited participants at Confluence (a gathering for reflection, resistance, and rejuvenation that took place in June) to imagine that our foot was numb. She guided us through recalling the familiar tingling and often painful sensation that happens when we start to move a numb foot. As the circulation returns it can be painful, yet moving forward we can feel a spectrum of sensations, for instance the pleasure of a foot massage or smooth texture of the linoleum floor. On an organizational level this may mean reckoning with non-equitable hiring practices, or on a network level this may mean reckoning with leaders facing their previously unacknowledged dominant culture practices, including racism. Sheryl posited that when working towards deep equity, many groups have at least one numb foot. And this isn’t surprising given that one strategy of white supremacy to is disconnect people from their emotions, bodies, stories and innate wisdom in order to survive.  Sheryl invites people to unnumb their feet and allow their own deep wisdom to surface and circulate in finding equitable practices for their organizations.

Holding space and shepherding processes for equity involves empathy and compassion for all individuals involved even when personally triggered. This means that for those of us engaging in deep equity work, our inner work practices are not optional, they are imperative.  In other words, Sheryl prompts us to consider, “When the floodgates open can you handle it?” With inner work,* we can engage and stay buoyed when the flood waters rise.

I am drawn back again and again to how our connection to source, what for some may be a specific faith tradition or for others a sense of connection to the earth, is critical to presently living into a world of love, dignity, and justice.  Yet this connection is often not formally acknowledged as a part of our individual and collective ability to do the work. 

In my breakout group after her presentation, people agreed that we were ready for this flood. We went further in acknowledging how our deep faith and spiritual practices and ability to hold a group through their own process of reckoning and healing is often the magic that people want when they work with us. My group members raised questions about how and when we can bring our faith and magic explicitly into work that is often explicitly secular. These are questions I’d like to continue to learn about and reflect on in community.

This leaves me with two specific questions:

  • What are your practices to stay embodied when the theoretical floodgates open around power and privilege?
  • How do you explicitly incorporate your inner work into your project plans, organization, or network?

Inner work and deep equity can be places of pain, grief, and anger as well as healing and rejuvenation. So “How do we make justice the most pleasurable place to be?” as adrienne maree brown asked us in her catalyst conversation at Confluence (more on this in a future blog).  To inhabit this pleasurable place, we must invite parts of ourselves and our collective communities to unnumb. Otherwise we won’t know when we’ve arrived. May we all prioritize our own methods for connecting to our source in order to move from our cores as we navigate inner work with ourselves and others with humility so that all people and the planet can thrive.

If you’re interested in finding a path forward towards this pleasurable place with MAG please let us know as we’re starting a series of small tests with others to figure out where there is energy to move.

Images by Eugene Kim, Alison Lin

*Understanding  Inner Work

Inner work refers to both the individual practices that support transformation, sustenance, and healing and the group practices that lead to clarity of purpose, deepened alignment, healthier relationships, more powerful strategy, and sustainability for the long haul of social change.

Inner work grounds and anchors us so deeply in our core being (purpose, commitments, values), that the deeper our practice becomes, the less likely it is possible for us to be shaken out of it, no matter the outer conditions or circumstances.”