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Sparking New Collaborations and Deepening Relationships with Learning Communities

For funders considering various mechanisms for broader and deeper levels of engagement with organizations and stakeholders, Learning Communities are a powerful tool. They support the development of trusting and thoughtful relationships, cultivation of allies and supporters on mission-aligned topics, and establishment of credibility and expertise. 

On the grantee side, Learning Communities provide pathways to connectivity and collaborations. The opportunities allow for increased knowledge- and resource-sharing, strengthening organizational and programmatic capacity,  and enhancing partnerships. 

Most importantly, creation of and sustained support for Learning Communities helps shift power dynamics, build trust, and make progress toward authentic partnerships for greater impact. 

What is A Learning Community?


We define a learning community as a place for organizations that are aligned around shared goals, inquiries or concerns to come together to intentionally explore new perspectives, share practices and challenges, exchange resources, and mentor and support to expand connections, ideas and knowledge over time.


Our Core Beliefs:


  • Learning Communities should offer expansive opportunities to strengthen an organization’s capacity for continuous learning and improvement.
  • Group-driven engagement – where the focus is on discovering, understanding, sharing and questioning – is a critical aspect of continuous learning and growth for individuals, organizations and funders.
  • Funders have convening power. Providing the places to connect and share challenges and opportunities, insights, information and resources is enough of a reason to convene

Case Study 

For the past decade, TCC Group has collaborated with a corporate healthcare funder focused on disrupting and addressing health disparities in communities across the US.  We designed and implemented multiple programs awarding nearly $35 million in grants to hundreds of organizations (ranging in size, geography, lifecycle stage, and key populations) and which prioritized organizations that provide services to underserved communities, including LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals.  Our unique approach to the work was a focus on the integration of stakeholder engagement, strategic communications, and continuous evaluation and learning, along with grantmaking. These elements made it clear that a comprehensive, collaborative learning agenda which centered grantee needs and co-design was an essential driver to deepen valuable relationships and advance shared goals. 

We created rich opportunities for engagement and co-created in-person and virtual sessions focused on key populations, funding priorities, and geographies. Our belief in deep listening also informed our continuous learning approach – it helped set up a reciprocal environment that we were confident addressed the grantees’ needs and strengthened the funder’s strategies. The feedback and data indicated that organizations which made new connections and learned from peers helped spark new ideas for collaboration, better reached their programmatic goals and and gained increased trust in their funding partner.   

Below, we share some tips based on years of designing, co-creating and evaluating Learning Communities:  

Take the first step and start small

  • Don’t let the pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of the good. 
  • Identify any opportunity to connect with and provide resources and support to your grantees – this can take the form of grantee connection calls, small peer-led check-ins or  program newsletters.   
  • Be honest about what you can deliver and what you can’t. 

Establish a strong foundation of buy-in and relevance with feedback, input and co-creation 

  • Remember that your partners are the experts in their work – always offer opportunities for peer-exchange, peer-led work and peer-driven engagement. 
  • Ensure that the priorities and resources are grantee-driven, relevant and rooted in  community needs. 
  • Give time for ideas to percolate, creating a space for deeper engagement, reflection and adjustments. 

Invest time and resources to help you and your partners get to know one another

  • While often overlooked, allocating time and resources to activities like speed dating, networking breaks, connection calls, etc. are just as valuable as content expertise. 
  • Create space for peer learning and exchange, one of the most powerful elements of deep and sustained learning. 

 Remember that everything is intersectional  

  • True social change work requires centering individuals and organizations in the full ecosystem. For example, to address the HIV burden in communities, engaging those working to address issues around housing, food access, mental health, substance use, etc.  
  • Learning Communities are a great way to break down silos. Oftentimes the stress and urgency of the work inhibits creativity, cross-cutting collaboration and innovation – creating these spaces provides a container and resources to connect, engage and problem-solve. 

Create an atmosphere where organizations can speak freely and honestly; trust is at the heart of successful collaborations  

  • There is tremendous value in engaging outside facilitators who have currency, trust and content knowledge that resonates with Learning Community participants. Consider whether and in what role you (the funder) should participate in Learning Community engagements. 
  • Take risks. Embrace and learn from mistakes. 
  • Support organizations through change as they take learnings back home. 

Learning Communities are an incredibly powerful way to advance your grantmaking efforts. With benefits to funders, grantees, and participants, the magic is in finding the spaces and places where organizations can work more strongly and efficiently together to achieve shared goals. Where there is a commitment in sharing learnings to strengthen both individual and collective work, resources, and expertise, impact can be real and enduring. We would love to hear about what has worked for you!

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