A Powerful Moment for Philanthropy-Supporting Organizations

Austin Long

As a director on the Assessment and Advisory Services team here at CEP, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with many regional philanthropy associations, national philanthropy-supporting organizations, and different affinity groups. In fact, through CEP’s advisory services, my colleagues and I have presented at events, conducted member surveys, and worked on other projects with more than a dozen regional and national associations. Collaborating with folks from these peer organizations doing important and unique work to better the field of philanthropy can be incredibly rewarding and energizing.

So, needless to say, I was excited when many of these organizations convened at the Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers annual conference in Indianapolis the other week. We know that if funders don’t invest in philanthropy’s infrastructure, there’s always the potential for competition and territoriality rather than collaboration. But I believe the Forum’s new vision to serve as the place where philanthropy’s infrastructure comes together is a natural and important evolution in the many ways all of our organizations have already worked together toward greater impact.

For example, the three regional associations in California (Northern California Grantmakers, Southern California Grantmakers, and San Diego Grantmakers) have worked together closely for years before forming the soon-to-be launched California Philanthropy Alliance and a partnership with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. The Grantmakers in Health, Grants Managers Network, and Animal Grantmakers conferences I’ve attended (just to name a few) have all been powerful examples of how our organizations can collaborate to offer valuable content, networking, and insights to improve foundation effectiveness. And not to leave out our neighbors to the north, CEP President Phil Buchanan is speaking at the Philanthropic Foundations Canada conference in November, while Hilary Pearson, PFC’s president & CEO, has also visited CEP to speak with our staff about PFC’s work and the philanthropic landscape in Canada.

The Forum’s conference struck me as a powerful moment — and as a culmination of these relationships. Together, I hope we can take advantage of a few opportunities that stood out during my time in Indianapolis:

  1. We’re not alone. It sounds like an odd thing to say when we’re talking about all of the ways our organizations can work together, but for staff at philanthropy-supporting organizations, our roles can sometimes feel isolating in a field that already exists in its own bubble. Having hundreds of peers in the same room who share an understanding of the context in which we all work was, and will continue to be, a crucial opportunity to learn from each other.
  2. We need support and training, too. I appreciated all of the Forum’s sessions, which covered everything from best practices for programming to an open conversation about why philanthropy matters now more than ever amid the barrage of recent tragedies. There are so many highly skilled staff with tremendous experience in philanthropy, and sharing that knowledge makes all of us better.
  3. We’re just getting started. Effective collaboration and applying shared knowledge is always challenging, but I believe the Forum can help philanthropy-supporting organizations do this type of work more comprehensively and efficiently.

I’ve always viewed philanthropy as a unique opportunity to address challenges that other sectors can’t (or won’t). For those of us who get to play a role in that through our work with foundations, grantees, and one another, I’m looking forward to the potential the Forum’s new vision offers.

Austin Long is director, assessment and advisory services, at CEP.

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