The Power of a Network to Amplify Philanthropy’s Voice

I recently wrote a post for the CEP blog about the power of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers — the Forum Network — to advance philanthropy across the field. That power of the Forum Network, the largest network serving philanthropy in America, was on display again in March when nearly 200 representatives of foundations and other philanthropic organizations converged on Washington, D.C. for Foundations on the Hill. The event is the one time each year when the philanthropic sector gathers together in the nation’s capitol to provide a collective voice for philanthropy with federal legislators and other policymakers. People from 31 states held more than 260 meetings with House and Senate members to tell their personal stories about the value of philanthropy in their states and districts, and to highlight important federal policies that can strengthen and grow philanthropy.

Bringing together this collective voice could not have happened without the Forum Network, which is comprised of 33 regional philanthropic associations with a combined membership of more than 5,500 organizations. Aside from bringing their significant logistical muscle to make all those meetings happen, the Network’s regional association members know the local stories about philanthropy that resonate with legislators, and they know the philanthropic leaders who can best tell those stories.

The Forum Network also brought strong policy know-how to make Foundations on the Hill a success, thanks in large part to the Forum’s PolicyWorks for Philanthropy initiative. PolicyWorks aims to prepare regional associations for individual, collaborative, and collective policy work at local, state, and federal levels. The effort has helped regional associations make dramatic gains in strengthening their public policy capacity since the start of the initiative six year ago.

For example, 79 percent of regional associations allocated staff time to policy work in 2014, compared to just 45 percent in 2009, when PolicyWorks started. Today, 79 percent of regional associations are also facilitating the building of relationships between their philanthropic members and state and local policymakers — up from just 43 percent six years ago. And in just a one-year period, between 2013 and 2014, the percentage of regional associations on track to achieve all of their public policy objectives nearly doubled, from 21 percent to 41 percent.

Through PolicyWorks, regional associations have greatly strengthened their ability — and the ability of their members — to talk effectively about policy issues and to strengthen their relationships with legislators.

In my previous CEP blog post, I described how the Forum Network’s “Get on the Map” collaboration with the Foundation Center is starting to transform philanthropy’s ability to tell its story using credible, timely data. Just as the “Get on the Map” campaign is possible due to a partnership of the Forum Network and the Foundation Center, the Foundations on the Hill event represents a strong partnership between the Forum Network and another national philanthropic organization, the Council on Foundations. By combining the Council’s strong knowledge and connections on federal policy issues with the Forum Network’s deep regional knowledge and connections, the philanthropic sector can more effectively demonstrate to federal officials the power of philanthropy across the country.

Both the “Get on the Map” campaign and Foundations on the Hill are clear demonstrations that when you bring the Forum Network’s broad nationwide reach and deep regional connections together with the knowledge and expertise of a national philanthropic organization, like the Foundation Center or the Council on Foundations, good things can happen to advance philanthropy in our country.

David Biemesderfer is chair of the Board of Directors of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers and president & CEO of Florida Philanthropic Network. Follow him on Twitter at @DBiemesderfer.

developing strategy, effective philanthropy, foundation effectiveness, leadership, nonprofit sector, role of philanthropy
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