Seattle Foundation Blog

Effective Collaboration

Why foundations and philanthropists are coming together to address COVID-19

June 10, 2020

By Lauren Domino, Director, Donor Stewardship & Engagement

“How can my gift have the greatest impact?” I hear this question a lot in my role as an advisor to philanthropists. Often effectiveness means putting your trust in expert intermediaries and joining collective efforts for change. In this time of great need and growing inequities, working together is particularly important. It allows us to respond to the crisis with scale and speed and to lay the groundwork for a stronger future.

Seattle Foundation’s Tony Mestres recently participated in a webinar hosted by the National Center for Family Philanthropy, exploring the role of collaborative philanthropy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tony joined UN Foundation CEO Elizabeth Cousens and CDC Foundation CEO Judith Monroe for a panel conversation about how organized coalitions of funders can effectively assess gaps in support for vulnerable populations and direct their collective resources to maximize their impact.

Together the panelists highlighted the tremendous work happening at the local, national and international levels, reflecting on the lessons they have learned since the pandemic began.

  • Trust is crucial to do things at scale and speed. As Judy from the CDC Foundation said, “The only thing that can move faster than this virus is the speed of trust.” All three leaders said their ability to move quickly hinged on leveraging existing partnerships and building trust with new partners. This requires, “listening with respect, finding where there is alignment, being relentlessly fact- and science-based, and open and transparent about communications,” as Elizabeth put it. Tony highlighted the importance of balancing collaboration and openness alongside effective and streamlined decision-making to get things done and make hard decisions.
  • Listen to those at the frontlines. People on the frontline have the experience and relationships to know what support and services will be most effective. The CDC Foundation is in constant contact with local public health departments to identify specific gaps and provide critical funding to support the work of local agencies on the ground. Seattle Foundation partners with community advisory groups to inform funding strategies and ensure they evolve along with changing needs. In addition to funding the World Health Organization, The UN Foundation directly supports a range of partners on the ground who understand the local context.
  • The disparate impacts of the pandemic make it clear we must reimagine a more equitable future. “We have an amazing opportunity in the midst of this most anguishing moment to redress some chronic and deep issues that we face in our societies,” Elizabeth said. COVID-19 has only amplified the inadequacies and inequities in our current systems. Tony said we need to take this opportunity to “not recover, but reinvent what our society needs around notions like shared prosperity—and do the hard work of throwing out the playbooks of the past and rewriting new ones.” Judy wants to build on the partnerships we are seeing across government, philanthropy, and the private sector to create meaningful change across the globe.

Watch the entire webinar to hear more of the expert insights from this trio of leaders.

Thank you to the National Center for Family Philanthropy for convening the session and to Gabrielle Fitzgerald with Panorama for moderating.

Learn more about the evolving work of the local COVID-19 Response Fund and join us this collective effort to support workers and families who’ve been hit hardest by the pandemic.



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