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Three Reflections from the GEO Community Driven Philanthropy Remote Learning Series

Posted on December 20, 2023 by Andrew Spector, TPF Fellow 2023/24
From October 5 – November 16, I participated in Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ Community-Driven Philanthropy Remote Learning Series. Over the course of six two-hour sessions across seven weeks, 22 funders and philanthropic advisers from across the country met to “explore the practices that matter most to nonprofits through a combination of in-depth conversation, practical examples, and thought-provoking discussions.” We examined the historical context of the philanthropic sector, identified the conditions needed for community-driven philanthropy, engaged with specific community-driven philanthropy practices, and identified how to sustain change through listening, feedback loops, and iteration.

Now that I’ve completed the training, three reflections are emerging:

1. Capacity is Often a Shared Challenge

I joined The Patterson Foundation after seven years of starting and leading a K-12 youth leadership organization in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A common challenge among my nonprofit peers was capacity. Most seemed to never feel like they had enough staff or hours in the day to get everything done. There was a general sentiment that funders didn’t also have this challenge. After connecting and learning with 21 other people from the funding side for seven weeks, it’s clear that capacity is often a shared challenge. Funders, too, don’t always feel like they have enough staff or hours in the day to get everything done. Nor do they feel like they usually have the time to participate in a training like the Community-Driven Philanthropy Remote Learning Series. Of course, they were there, but it was certainly a time squeeze for many. This gives me more empathy for funders and further instills the belief that nonprofits and funders should feel and act like they’re on the same team with the same goal of trying to make a positive impact in their communities.

2. Nonprofit Perspective is a Superpower

Community-driven philanthropy posits that funders can drive more impact if they better center community by employing practices that listen to, build trust with, and cede power to nonprofits and community. As I engaged with these practices at the training, it became clear that my nonprofit perspective is a superpower. If you work for a funder and haven’t had experience working for a nonprofit, particularly in a fundraising role that brings you into direct relationship with funders, it’s harder to truly empathize with and build deep trust with your nonprofit partners. Jessamyn Shams-Lau, Jane Leu, and Vu Le, authors of Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits & Foundations Can Build EPIC Partnerships, offer the solution of “hiring empathy,” which they see as a crucial strategy for increasing trust, respect, and empathy between nonprofits and funders. They write: “If you lack first-hand experience in building and running the types of organizations that your foundation supports, then hire staff that can fill those knowledge gaps for you.”

3. Peer Learning is Key

It’s typically never as simple as just reading a book or article, or reviewing a framework, and then implementing. Practices must be adapted to your unique context; it’s helpful to hear from others about lessons learned, and it’s important to bounce ideas off peers. A huge part of the value of the remote learning series was learning from and with the other participants. Special shoutout of appreciation to my small group: Esther Annan from The John R. Oishei Foundation, Jessie Ratey from the Couch Family Foundation, and Kaleigh Trammell from the Quad Cities Community Foundation!

I’m grateful for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations for putting on the training and for The Patterson Foundation for giving me the opportunity to participate. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore community-driven philanthropy and learn with the new colleagues I met during the training.

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