Council on Foundations Facilitates Collaboration Discussion

I spent the morning of May 4th at the Council on Foundation’s conference in Atlanta meeting with other folks who run affinity groups and regional organizations. According to the Council on Foundations, there are 37 interest-based organizations (like GIA) and 37 geographically-based networks, like Northern California Grantmakers or Delaware Valley Grantmakers. Not everyone was there but there were enough organizations present to have a great discussion.

We are all different, in different stages of organizational maturity. What we have in common are origins that arose from a need in the philanthropic community and member-driven missions. Like most grantmakers today, affinity and regional groups are assessing their programs, their resources and their operations. There is a general consensus that we can work “better together.” The question on the table today was “how do we collaborate to better serve our members?” It was music to my ears.

We began by discussing the collaborations that have already occurred and why they were successful. The most prevalent and obvious is program content provided by the interest-based organizations for the members of regional organizations. This has been done systematically by a couple of affinity groups. Grantmakers in the Arts has sporadically developed sessions for organizations like the Association of Small Foundations and the Council on Foundations itself. In the future, we will be deliberate in developing curriculum that can be used by regional grantmakers and other affinity groups. This concept fits well into GIA’s three year plan and our discussions of serving members through partnerships.

Just as our members are coping with downsizing, decreased appropriations and adjustments in programs, affinity groups are dealing with the same issues. They are sensitive to the fact that they need to become more relevant and do more with less. For GIA, it has meant cutting back on staff and attempting to work smarter. Our investment in a new website and open-source database will create a mechanism for us to store our library of information and allow for organic member-to-member connections. Mapping organizations who are funding arts education, individual artists, advocacy and public policy and social justice will give our members a greater capacity to network and share information. Working together with other affinity groups will bolster the role of the arts as integral to community life. It’s the “high tide raises all ships” theory.

Affinity groups began to give grantmakers the information, research, networking and professional development information they needed for a specific sector of funding. A poor economy doesn’t mean the knowledge and networking is less important and in fact, it might make it more important. But, we should demand that our associations work smarter, more strategically and when it makes sense, work together.

Be better together.