This month we are delighted to feature a question recently prompted by a Friend of the National Center for Family Philanthropy. We decided to take this question to our Family Philanthropy Network on LinkedIn to see if others active in the field had advice and perspectives they could share. Our Friend inquired about the following:
“Our foundation, along with a few other small-staffed foundations in the area, would like to invite a small number of non profits to an event where we can all learn about one another in a relaxed atmosphere – where foundations and nonprofits can network with one another. The goal is twofold:
- For smaller-staffed foundations in the region to learn about many organizations in a short time, and
- To enable the nonprofits to provide an overview of their organization to many potential funders in a short time. We do not wish to have a “speed dating” format nor a “panel with pitches” due to the burden it would place on the nonprofits.”
Responses from Family Philanthropy Network participants included:
When I was part of the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers we institutionalized a foundation fair to give nonprofits in the rural parts of the state access to meeting foundations and vice versa. While it may be more formal than what you intend, the event has been a huge success. The foundation fair was similar to a college fair where the foundations set up booths, talked to nonprofits individually, and both sides were able to share information in a relatively short time period. Nonprofits were able to see and talk to, albeit briefly, 12-15 foundations over the course of two hour sessions. They were given information ahead of time about each foundation’s mission and funding focus so they could plan out their experience.
Like a college fair, it allows the nonprofits and foundations the chance to determine whether there is a fit for partnership (ie funding) quickly. It also was a great exercise in the development of elevator speeches for both the nonprofits and the foundations.
Another advantage of this model is one-on-one conversations. It avoids the group situation where one individual may dominate the conversation. It’s also structured enough to force conversation. In a cocktail party or more social situation, it’s harder for nonprofits to feel comfortable approaching a funder. One year we included a skills workshop – a speaker on fundraising – but found that the nonprofits just wanted more time to meet with the funders.
— Bobbi Hapgood, Philanthropic Ventures, LLC
I would underscore the sensitivity about competition: In fairness to the organizations, they are all hungry for funds and therefore it is fully up to the funders to set an atmosphere that works. Perhaps there should be jointly sponsored technical assistance to any group that attends – depending on the kind of technical assistance, you might do it group style [eg, the speaker approach suggested above] or something like evaluation coaching or board training, whereby all of the funders jointly sponsor an expert who can provide targeted but limited leaning for each organization separately. If there is a defined but concrete win for all organizations, it reduces but doesn’t eliminate the competition.
As to having organizations really open up, I would suggest that you would need several meetings to develop the trust that you as funders are seriously not pitting them against each other, that you are actually listening to what they say, and that you are formulating creative community responses. But that takes time.
— Richard Marker, Co- Principal Founder of
WISE PHILANTHROPY-Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy Advisors
These are all great ideas and I echo Richard’s point about being sensitive to competition. My “three cents”:
- How about “thought leader exchanges?” Host a “brown bag” or other informal gathering to bring together leaders, activists and philanthropist who are passionate about advancing a common goal. Have a theme to discuss. A group of family foundations could invite 3-to-5 nonprofit leaders as colleagues to identify needs, opportunities, and problems to brainstorm and “solve” together. NPOs will have grounded truth and insights that can help inform the funder’s thinking and without the pitch funders may get a better sense of the vision and leadership, etc. Of course funders, especially those who support a variety of organizations committed to key areas (eg, community development or education), can certainly offer insights and a vantage point about best practice, resources, etc. that will benefit the NPO, in addition to their money! Rather than pitching, NPOs should be invited to share their experiences and vision/plans and identify needs, including the role of philanthropy in sustainable problem solving. You might also want to chat with folks at the New England International Donor’s (NEID) which is managed by The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI). They have hosted or participated in similar events and have other donor-funder strategies that may be of interest to you.
- Round tables with a slight twist — I have seen various iterations of this and they work OK, but not usually the best for the NPOs when the donor stays at the same table and groups of NPOs move from table to table. It can be very frustrating as people may vie for attention for their organization and I am not sure the donors get a good sense of the NGOs. Asking one question to get attention of a funder isn’t really a good use of anyone’s time. However, it is less common and could work better to have the NPOs as the lead and the foundations move from table to table. They could introduce their organization and then facilitate a discussion and/or get donors who are NOT competing to share their priorities/insights. Either way, the tables should be small ( 6 or 8 people max) and there should be a good amount of time before people switch tables, which should be done en masse to avoid stopping and staring of intros, repeating info, etc.
- Last, but not least, Bobbi’s college fair suggestion is certainly a good one. It is important to keep the ratio of NPOs to funders reasonable so there can be time for meaningful exchanges. I would be sure there is time for one-on-one conversations and enable NPOs to sign up for brief appointments/time slots to speak directly with funders. This could happen after everyone has a chance to circulate. (Having recently participated in college fairs with my daughter, I can attest to the fact that ratios matter. It can really be a mad house when there are many more competing visitors to funder tables.)
— Danielle Klainberg, Entrepreneurial Philanthropy & Non-Profit Consultant and Leader
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