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Great (and Not-As-Great) Collaborations: Why They Succeed and How They Fail

Monday, January 27, 2020 -
10:00am to 12:00pm PST
Northern California Grantmakers
160 Spear Street, Suite 360 | San Francisco, CA 94105
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Collaboration has long been an aspiration in our sector. You can trace its early beginnings to donors pooling their resources through vehicles like Community Foundations to locally-focused efforts to the emergence (and rise) of gigantic aggregated funds that can wield tens of millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars in pursuit of solutions to complex social and environmental problems.

While there have been hundreds of articles on strategies, models, and approaches to collaboration, there has been little inquiry about whether we should pursue this as a strategy.  And if we do decide to pursue this as a direction for creating change, what differentiates success from failure?

That’s the question that the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation along with 4 other funders asked Bridgespan tackle through a rigorous study—first a compilation of existing literature and insights, and second, of both successful collaboratives as well as those that faltered or failed.  

Join us as we get insights, lessons, and strategies from the research commissioned and conducted by our presenters Fay Twersky (Hewlett Foundation) and Alison Powell (The Bridgespan Group) and hear a response from Matt Cervantes (Sierra Health Foundation) as well as local and statewide efforts from other leaders in the field.


  • How funder collaboratives can add value 
  • The elements and characteristics of successful collaboration—including questions to ask along the way to help get and stay on track
  • The features most associated with failed collaborations
  • Opportunities for local collaborative engagement


Matt Cervantes, Director of Health Programs, Sierra Health Foundation

Matt Cervantes is the Director of Health Programs at Sierra Health Foundation and The Center and manages the Youth Pathways to Health programming and grantmaking, including the Positive Youth Justice Initiative, which seeks to improve the health and social outcomes of young people in the juvenile justice system. Matt also leads the Leadership Development for Racial Equity organizational capacity building program, and manages all Boys and Young Men of Color programming, including the Sacramento My Brother’s Keeper Collaborative, and oversees the California Funders for Boys and Men of Color.

Matt brings a great deal of experience in youth development, policy and advocacy to his work at the foundation and The Center. During his public health career, he has managed youth advocacy programs at the Yolo County Department of Health, the Great Valley Region of the American Cancer Society, the California Youth Advocacy Network and the Western States Affiliate of the American Heart Association.

Matt is a California State University, Sacramento graduate in Social Work and fellow of Sierra Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Program and Grantmakers In Health Terrance Keenan Institute for Emerging Leaders in Health Philanthropy. He has a passion for ensuring all young people have an opportunity to contribute to their communities.

Alison Powell, Senior Director, Philanthropy, The Bridgespan Group

During the last seven years, Alison has led a number of projects with influential philanthropies, supporting their strategies and strategic implementation. Prior to focusing on philanthropy, she spent four years in Bridgespan’s strategy consulting practice working with direct-service clients.

Alison started her career at The Parthenon Group, a management consultancy where she worked on a host of strategic engagements.

Alison graduated cum laude with an AB degree in Politics from Princeton University and received her MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Alison writes and speaks on philanthropic issues, including co-authoring Four Pathways for Greater Giving, Making Big Bets for Social ChangeWhat Ambitious Philanthropists Can Learn From The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Experience Making Big BetsPhilanthropy in the New Age of Government AusterityReimagining Institutional Philanthropy, and How Philanthropic Collaborations Succeed, and Why They Fail.

Willa Seldon, Partner, Bridgespan

Willa Seldon is a partner in Bridgespan’s San Francisco office and co-leads their Children, Youth, and Families practice. She advises nonprofits, social enterprises and foundations – collaborating with leaders on refining their strategies and improving their operating and economic models. Building on her for-profit experience in joint ventures and mergers, Willa is a leader in Bridgespan’s work in cross-sector, nonprofit, and funder collaborations. Willa also has led engagements to support mobilization efforts, such as the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and the White House Council for Community Solutions.

Willa brings leadership and management experience from both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. She has transformed organizations, led them to viability, and established systems that enable organizations to better achieve their missions and long-term sustainability.
She is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's Economic Advisory Council, on the Board of Directors of College Futures Foundation, former vice-chair of the Board of Trustees of Bryn Mawr College, and former chair of KQED. She also was awarded the Most Influential Women in Business award by the San Francisco Business Times. Willa’s for-profit experience includes seven years at Milepost, a venture capital firm she co-founded and senior executive experience at AirTouch Communications, a multi-billion dollar wireless communications company.

Target Audience

This event is open to NCG members and non-member funders. 

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