Collaborative philanthropy: How the next generation is teaming up to create lasting change

Charitable giving

The next generations of ultra-high-net-worth families are coming together to create a large-scale impact on some of the world’s most daunting social challenges.


A new generation of passionate changemakers are hoping to take collaborative philanthropy to the next level to solve some of the planet’s most pressing issues.

With more like-minded philanthropists, more resources and a burgeoning number of charitable collaborations, this new generation of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) are not content with simply putting money toward causes they believe in – they want to make sure their efforts have enduring impact.

They’re a generation influenced by globalisation, who worry about the kind of world their children will grow up in. As a result, they’re more often socially and environmentally conscious: 93 percent of them donate to philanthropic causes, according to research from RBC, in partnership with Campden Wealth.

They “want their children to learn values of not only hard work and an understanding of the value of money, but also tolerance and respect for others, along with a sense of social and environmental responsibility,” the report says, adding that more than half of those surveyed believe these are important lessons to learn at home.

The 2020 Shaping tomorrow, today  report surveyed over 100 next-generation wealth holders from Canada, the United States and the UK. The report found that in the last 12 months alone, 84 percent gave as much as US$1 million of their personal wealth to charitable causes.

But top of mind for more than a third of respondents is making sure their money is put to good use and has a measurable impact. Nearly a quarter say one of the biggest challenges of giving is identifying the right organisations to support, while 11 and 10 percent say the greatest challenge is finding co-investing partners and scaling up, respectively.

Teaming up to have a greater impact

Philanthropy done well is always collaborative to some degree, says Valerie Chort, vice president of Corporate Citizenship at RBC and executive director of RBC Foundation.

At its core, it’s about making an impact around a common cause – often addressing a systemic challenge – as a group, typically pairing investors with non-profits.

Mark Fell, who heads global ultra-high-net-worth services at RBC, says philanthropists involved in this kind of work recognise they can do better and do more by working with others.

“It’s arguably more mature philanthropy, more sophisticated,” he explains.

“That’s a significant sign of experience, there’s less ego involved,” says Fell, who is also the board chair for the Prince’s Trust Canada , part of a global charity established by the Prince of Wales that focuses on empowering youth.

“For the most ordinary person, it’s recognition that by giving together, one and one can make three.”

Chort says it’s not necessarily just about how much money one puts towards a cause, but what they can bring to the table in other ways too. This is something the next generation of UHNW philanthropists recognise, according to the RBC report.

As one Generation X from the U.S. explained in an interview for the report, “The previous generation really saw investments as investments, and charity as writing a cheque. So I’m in the process of thinking more about how to use our financial background to leverage our giving, versus just one extreme (philanthropy) or the other (investing).”

Meanwhile, experienced philanthropists understand that even a billion-dollar investment in a charitable cause can be multiplied when they team up with others. Partnering with governments, the private sector, as well as other non-governmental organisations, for example, can bring scale, reputational growth and many other advantages.

The Giving Pledge , founded in 2010, has served as a strong road map for UHNW families when collaborating with others on large scale, high-impact philanthropy. As of May 2019, the pledge had 204 signatories from 22 countries.

“Trying to tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems, which have been magnified by the COVID crisis, becomes much more complex and challenging than one single philanthropist can do on their own,” says Robyn Calder, executive director of The ELMA Philanthropies and a member of the RBC Philanthropy Advisory Council. It’s even more critical now, she says, to engage with others to create social change.

The key to successful collaboration

Still, it’s not enough to simply pool money with others. “You need to embark around a passion that ignites you as a person,” Fell says.

Just over half of those surveyed say they support education and academic research. This is followed by youth and children (34 percent) and almost a third believe in helping fund arts, culture and sports, as well as community development. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed support health initiatives and just over one-fifth support environmental issues, including climate change, conservation, animal rights and food security.

Once that passion is identified, it’s also important to understand the initiative and its mission in order to ensure there’s strong, effective governance associated with it. Due diligence is also required to ensure everyone is aligned and shares the same values around the cause.

Questions to ask include: how much do they know about the issue? Are they well-versed or are they just getting started? What can they bring to the cause? Is it money or entrepreneurial experience? How well do you know the ecosystem for the issue you want to support? How is impact measured and tracked?

“In order to have collaborative philanthropy … you want to bring the best partners together to be able to solve that issue together,” says Chort.

If a group wants to find solutions to homelessness, for example, they need to engage policy makers, people who deal with homelessness on the streets, experts in real estate – different parts of the ecosystem, she says.

It’s bringing together individuals who care about the same issue, pooling their money and expertise to achieve something greater than themselves, Chort explains, but she cautions, “Understanding the power dynamics is really important, so you can actually achieve collaboration.”

Specifically, Chort says funders bringing in the money need to understand their role so they don’t inadvertently impose a direction or a view that may not necessarily be the best approach for a given situation – that’s not collaborative.

What does collaborative philanthropy look like today?

The Skoll Foundation , founded by Canadian billionaire Jeffrey Skoll, invests in individuals or groups whose goals are to try and solve some of the world’s most pressing social, cultural and environmental problems.

Other ambitious funds include Blue Meridian Partners , which focuses on strategies that can make the greatest difference in lifting families and young people out of poverty in the United States. Co-Impact  describes itself as a global philanthropic collaborative that brings together local communities, non-profits, governments, donors and many others to solve social problems on a large scale. The END Fund  collaborates with governments, NGOs, drug companies, academic partners and others to tackle neglected tropical diseases that affect more than 1.7 billion people in the world.

In 2020, the World Economic Forum launched an initiative called the Great Reset  in direct response to COVID-19 and the political, economic and social upheaval it’s caused. Fell says the pandemic has brought inequities to the forefront and a heightened sense of urgency for many philanthropists.

“Especially as a result of the pandemic, there’s certainly an emergence of people who want to partner with others to address change,” Fell says.

“There’s much more to come here and we’re just at the forefront of seeing a surge in thinking around collaborative philanthropy.”

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