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PEAK Grantmaking

Using Data to Collaborate: Actionable Steps to Be True Community Partners

Collaboration is all the buzz in the philanthropy world. I’ve read countless articles about how foundations need to be better collaborators with the nonprofits and communities receiving their funds.

What I have not read are concrete ways to go about collaborating. To be effective, how can foundations better support the nonprofit communities they support financially? If both a foundation and its nonprofit partners have the same end goal in mind, what could collaboration look like?

At Susan G. Komen Colorado, one of the key strengths of our grantmaking program is collaboration for system-level change. With data about community-level issues from grantees, Komen Colorado can increase its impact by taking the information straight to decision-makers in government and other agencies to advocate for stronger laws or programs for the communities served.

Foundations must commit to system-level changes to address any of the societal inequities at its deepest level; to kill a tree, you don’t cut off its branches, you attack its roots, exactly what foundations need to do to make a lasting difference.

I hear all the time how this collaborative work is valued by the grantees, as it allows them to focus on what they do best – delivering care – and it allows Komen Colorado to step up as a true thought leader to bring about wide, sweeping change.

You may be asking, how do we start this kind of collaboration? Start with data. Foundations are constantly wondering how to use information from grantees so it doesn’t just sit in an online database. System-level collaboration is how to use the data in meaningful ways.

When reviewing data from grantees, think about how policies and laws might affect the community from achieving better outcomes. Let’s say your foundation focuses on addressing homelessness. One grantee reports that they serve 500 individuals over the course of six months, 25% of whom experience drug addiction. The grantee also reports that more than 40% of the total funding goes to support these 125 individuals because of the additional and more costly needs associated with addiction.

As a foundation representative, you could take data like this to local decision-makers, such as city council members, to appeal for more funds addressing drug addiction in the area where the grantee works.

In this case, let’s assume the city council does pass a new budget with increased funds for battling drug addiction. The capacity of your grantees can increase due to more funding now being available to support those without specialized needs.

There are three things to consider when defining collaboration for your foundation:

  1. What are we trying to change? What is our focus area?
  2. What are the current policies and practices addressing this focus area?
  3. What data do we need to determine if the policies and practices are working?

Once you know those answers, go back to your data. What does it tell you? Do you have the right data? If you need to ask for more information or clarification from your grantees, ask! In my experience, organizations are happy to provide information as long as you make it clear why you need the data and how it will help serve them better. Grantees might also have ideas on what policies need to be changed, added, or removed, and how to appeal to lawmakers.

Collaboration is more than a word or a strategy. It takes time, thought, and commitment to your cause outside of funding programs and building capacity. If foundations want to be true community partners, they should focus on the big picture, not just the individual impact.


Komen Colorado asks grantees to report on individuals who receive care through Komen funds, including information on each individual’s insurance type and if they fall into the “underinsured” category, meaning they have insurance but some health care is still out of reach due to cost.

With information on underinsured individuals, Komen Colorado is working with state legislators to pass a law requiring insurance companies to cover diagnostic procedures through cost-sharing methods, such as co-payments, rather than having costly tests hit deductibles, which often make the tests unaffordable.

If the law passes, it would make breast cancer care more accessible from the system-level, meaning more women can access care immediately without needing to find additional funds, and more Komen funding can go to those without any insurance. By gathering data from grantees about the need in the underinsured community, Komen Colorado is confident when approaching lawmakers to appeal to a system change.