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An Example of Successful Nonprofit Collaboration: The Forum’s Knowledge Management Collaborative

Friday, January 5, 2024

Note: As he approaches his retirement, Forum President & CEO David Biemesderfer is sharing some parting reflections about the Forum’s work in a series of blog posts. This is the third post in the series (read the first post here reflecting on the Forum’s racial equity work and the second post here reflecting on the Forum’s policy and advocacy work). 

The nonprofit sector is always looking to identify the most effective ways to engage in successful nonprofit collaborations, and United Philanthropy Forum has a successful model to share with our Knowledge Management (KM) Collaborative. The Forum’s KM Collaborative is a unique nonprofit collaboration that represents the best aspects of a collaborative effort: it helps nonprofits in the collaborative to be more effective collectively than they could be individually, it allows them to gain significant economies of scale, and it provides them with an invaluable peer-learning community.  

Over the last 20 years, philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) have built a powerful technology collaborative that has increased our impact as individual organizations and as a field. Currently, 37 Forum members are Partners in the KM Collaborative, representing a diverse range of regional and national PSOs in terms of size and focus. KM Partners include national PSOs like ABFE and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees and regional PSOs like Philanthropy Ohio, Northern California Grantmakers, and Wisconsin Philanthropy Network. The Forum is also a KM Partner. The KM Collaborative has grown in size, scope, and sophistication since it was started with six regional PSOs in 2006, and in my past eight years at the Forum, we’ve added 13 new KM Partners. 

These KM Partners have joined forces to create, maintain and continually improve our industry-leading technology platform. The platform consists of a Content Management System (CMS) for KM Partner’s websites, powered by Drupal, that is integrated with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) service, powered by Salesforce—all tailored to the specific needs of philanthropy associations and networks. By leveraging collective purchasing power and expertise, the Forum and our members have created a platform that offers significant operational efficiencies for the participating organizations, a group of peers to consult, and a robust feature set at a fraction of what a system of its caliber would cost an individual PSO to build and maintain on its own. The KM Collaborative streamlines PSOs’ internal operations to allow them to go deeper in working with their philanthropy members and builds their capacity to do their work of leading, connecting, convening, informing, mobilizing, and supporting networks of philanthropy. 

The KM Collaborative is about much more than technology: ultimately it is about people. An important aspect of the KM Collaborative is its vibrant user community. Staff of KM Partners can connect, learn, and share with PSO colleagues who are working for similar types of organizations and using the same CMS and CRM platforms, giving them invaluable ongoing peer support. They are also supported by the expert KM team on the Forum staff, who serve as the key connector between the KM Partners and the platform’s developers, are available to answer Partners’ questions and offer short-term consulting help, and work on an ongoing basis to bring a racial equity lens to the KM Collaborative’s work. Also vital to the KM Collaborative’s success are many staff from KM Partners who volunteer their time to serve on the KM Advisory Group and several working groups, which provide guidance and direction for key decisions in the KM Collaborative, and the KM Committee, which brings key strategic issues for the KM Collaborative to the Forum’s Board of Directors. 

All collaborations have their challenges, and the KM Collaborative is no different. The Forum is constantly challenged to find ways to keep the platform as affordable as possible for our current KM Partners, and potential new Partners, amid continuously rising technology costs, while remaining financially sustainable. These challenges have grown more astute in the past few years, as the cost of everything has gone up. The KM team is also challenged to deal with ongoing transitions among key staff at KM Partner organizations, which seem to have accelerated in recent years — a situation not unique to the Forum network — and requires the KM team to constantly onboard and train new staff at KM Partners. 

I am grateful to the Forum’s KM team — Val Rozansky, Vice President of Knowledge Services; Kim Snipes, Director of Knowledge Services; Brooke Petit, Senior Manager of Knowledge Services; and Colette Larson, Associate of Knowledge Services; — who lead and execute the Forum’s KM Collaborative, and to Courtney Moore, Senior Director of Member Services, who devotes part of her time to the KM Collaborative and serves as the Forum’s representative for the collaboration. I am also deeply appreciative to the Forum’s KM Committee for its strategic guidance, currently led by chair Kristen Ruff of Philanthropy New York. 

The Forum is always happy to share what we’re learning from our KM Collaborative. If you’d like to learn more, please contact Val Rozansky.  

David Biemesderfer
President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum
dave@unitedphilforum.org

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