Building a New Kind of Philanthropic Network

Dave Biemesderfer

A few weeks ago I shared some reflections on the recent annual conference put on by the organization that I lead, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. I wrote about how the conference was a milestone in several ways, marking the first time that an event had brought together the staff and CEOs of regional, national, and international philanthropy-serving organizations, or PSOs (like regional philanthropy associations and national affinity groups), to focus on their unique role in serving, informing, and advancing the philanthropic sector.

One of our goals for the conference was to put into action the power of the Forum’s new vision to be the place where philanthropy’s infrastructure comes together. I think we met that goal, based on the observations and reactions of conference attendees. Kathleen Enright, President and CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), described the conference as a “watershed moment” for philanthropy infrastructure in a blog post that she co-wrote with Christine Essel of Southern California Grantmakers, Nancy Jamison of San Diego Grantmakers, and Ellen LaPointe of Northern California Grantmakers.

“Driven by a shared desire to help philanthropy be most effective, leaders of philanthropy-serving organizations are embracing a mindset characterized by trust, openness and generosity of spirit,” the four philanthropy leaders write.

CEP’s own Director, Assessment and Advisory Services, Austin Long, described the conference as a “powerful moment” for philanthropy-serving organizations, as well. In his blog post, he notes that “effective collaboration and applying shared knowledge is always challenging, but I believe the Forum can help philanthropy-supporting organizations do this type of work more comprehensively and efficiently.”

One area in which the Forum will be moving forward right away to facilitate effective collaboration and apply shared knowledge is around racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in philanthropy, which was a much-discussed topic and the focus of several sessions throughout the Forum’s conference.

Right now, a number of regional and national PSOs are doing important work to address racial equity in philanthropy. The Forum intends to bring together the key learnings and best thinking of these groups so that it can be used broadly throughout our nationwide network in practical and powerful ways, and with a sense of urgency. We will work to establish continuous learning mechanisms so that this work remains relevant and useful. It would be impossible for any single PSO to tackle this huge issue on its own, but collectively through this network, we can have more power to move the needle and create change. The Forum’s Board of Directors engaged in strategic discussions on racial equity at its meeting last month, working with ABFE, an important national PSO partner for us.

We intend to leverage the power of our expanded network in other ways, as well. For example, this fall the Forum will start a project to engage regional funders in ensuring a fair and accurate census count in 2020, and an important national PSO partner for us will be the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP). This fall, the Forum will also be starting a project to improve foundation openness through regional initiatives and nationwide learning, and our efforts will be informed by previous work on this issue by national PSOs like Exponent Philanthropy and CEP. (See the CEP research report, Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency).

This is not an esoteric exercise. We’re building a new kind of network here, and the beneficiaries of our expanded network will be the people and communities that receive services and support thanks to philanthropic investments.  As regional and national PSOs work together more closely through our expanded network, we will not only make more efficient use of our resources, but we will provide better information, education, connections, and leadership to help maximize philanthropy’s impact.

Dave Biemesderfer is president and CEO of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. Follow him on Twitter at @dbiemesderfer, and the Forum at @givingforum.

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