More than 600 employees of grantmaking organizations convened in Los Angeles, CA last month for the 2014 national conference of Grantmakers for Effective Organization (GEO). GEO is a diverse community of more than 450 grantmakers committed to advancing smarter grantmaking practices that are most critical to bolstering nonprofit success. The Coleman Foundation was represented by Clark McCain, Senior Program Officer.
Themes of conference keynote addresses included habits, values and crowdfunding. Charles Duhigg, New York Times reporter and author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business described the impact of habits and presented insights on how to work about changing habits of others. A panel of foundation leaders, including Carol Larson of the Packard Foundation, Julie Rogers of the Meyer Foundation and Rev. Starsky Wilson of the Deaconess Foundation highlighted how their organization's values impact its grantmaking. A panel which included leaders of emerging philanthropic funding models such as Kiva and Catapult provided insights on how grantmakers might encourage organizations to explore these platforms.
Conference tracks focused attention on collaboration, evaluation, capacity building and stakeholder engagement. Some key takeaways:
- Some funders are aggressively exploring methods to streamline their grant proposal processes, including funding only general operating support and, in some cases, making grant budgets optional. This movement raises the importance of understanding the particular relationship between grantmaker and grantee. When goals of both are closely aligned, it can be possible to move towards a "partnership" between parties in which processes are less robust. However, in many cases where alignment is not perfect, certain processes aid in clarifying goals and expectations.
- The Coleman Foundation is exploring models which clearly articulate relationships between it and its grantees which may lead to different types of grantmaking
- What does "sustainability" really mean? Does a foundation invoke it to ask "how will this activity continue beyond our grant?" or is it a way to say, "we don't want to take this risk." Can foundation grants be purposed both to start or sustain programs as well as to entice new funders?
- Social media is a reality, a new realm which must be actively inhabited by organizations, both funders and grantees. Foundations are only beginning to determine how to advance their missions through a presence in social media. The sharing of information derived from grant activity is a good place to begin.
- The Coleman Foundation is working grantees to support efforts to support fundraising via social media, including a matching gift program for Giving Tuesday 2013.
- The "light push" of funders can be an important catalyst of collaboration among non-profits. Discussions about partnerships and mergers are not a sign of weakness but of insighful leadership.