I am constantly amazed at the culture of collaboration in Pittsburgh.  I often wonder if it is so deep in the personality of the region and its inhabitants that it is a natural state of being for those who live and work here.  I can think of many examples; most relevant to the work of SWSG is the collaborative nature of the funding community in Pittsburgh.
When the financial crisis hit the Pittsburgh funding community responded as local foundations and philanthropists joined forces to form Neighbor-Aid, a collaborative emergency fund to support the nonprofit agencies experiencing more demand for their services. To date more than $1.5 million has been given out in support of direct service needs.
SWSG has reaped the benefits of a collaborative funding community as well. When SWSG started in Pittsburgh, founder Lindsay Hyde thoughtfully negotiated the funding community, meeting with program officers from foundations whose missions aligned with SWSG’s. Meeting one-on-one with the funders proved helpful but with each successive meeting, Lindsay sensed a desire by the funders to have a broader conversation about all of the programs available for girls in the region. In response, Lindsay, in partnership with the Women and Girls Foundation and Carnegie Mellon University, pulled together a breakfast event called, “Making the Connection” and invited agencies and individuals committed to serving and empowering women and girls. Turnout was fantastic, with more than 80 in attendance. One of the reasons SWSG convened the group was to ask, collectively, whether SWSG would be filling a gap in services in Pittsburgh and how and whether we’d be welcomed. The event not only answered that question (“Yes, we need you! Please come!”) it served as a phenomenal coming together of funders and agencies and started a dialogue about shared services, needs and outcomes. The group was so enamored by the conversation that discussions started about forming a coalition of funders and agencies to continue the dialogue and find meaningful ways to collaborate. Thus, the Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania was born and has flourished under volunteer leadership, many of whom attended that first breakfast event.
More recently, SWSG Pittsburgh has been holding a round of funder meetings to talk about our plans for significant growth and scaling of our program (we intend to double the size of the program in Pittsburgh in the next 3 years to serve 600 girls). Two of our steadiest and most loyal funders, FISA Foundation and The Grable Foundation, suggested that rather than meet with all current and prospective funders one on one, they convene, on our behalf, a roundtable discussion, inviting funders in the region with an interest in girls, mentoring, and after school programming, to hear about our plans all at once, thus engaging everyone in a collective conversation about SWSG and allowing us to gather feedback and input about our plans. Another success. Not only did we have great turnout from current and prospective funders, we got terrific feedback from a group of foundation executives and program officers who want to, collectively and collaboratively, help SWSG continue our path of success.
From what I understand, Pittsburgh’s funding community is unique in this way. I wonder how many other communities could benefit from this type of thoughtful collaboration between funders.