Guest Post by Mimi Ghez, President and Founder of echo communications, LLC, a philanthropy advising service for nonprofits and foundations.
Later, when I became a grantmaker at Open Society Institute (now Open Society Foundations), a large foundation, I quickly learned the role of private donor communities. They are absolutely vital in helping to spread innovation to donors seeking funding directions.
Here’s What I Now Know
First, the world of donors is highly organized. Donors who fund in health care join an organization known as a “foundation affinity group” in order to network with other donors who fund in health. At affinity group meetings, the donors share information with each other about which of their grantees are particularly worthy of funding in the future.
There are literally dozens of foundation affinity groups, and each one is organized around a different theme. A donor affinity group, for example, exists for each of the following issues: civic participation, African American affairs, the environment, etc.
Each of these foundation affinity groups has at least a hundred or so member foundations, and many of the groups have significantly more.
Second, these networks are so valuable to donors that the donors actually pay annual dues to belong to them. In return, the staff of private donor communities organize programming that features nonprofit issue experts for the donors to learn from.
At private donor community meetings, donors can attend webinars, conferences, and workshops featuring nonprofit experts talking about their field of expertise and what areas need financial bolstering in order to advance field objectives.
These kinds of nonprofit issue experts who are invited in are clearly few and far between – the vast majority of nonprofit leaders do not even know these opportunities to speak exist. It is like receiving a golden egg to be invited to speak before donors who participate in these private donor communities, because you will be speaking about your ideas to as many as 50, 100, 200, and even 1,000 donors at one sitting.
If you have an idea you want donors to hear about – and you probably do – there is not a better venue to reach the ears of large numbers of grantors in your particular issue area. In speaking roles at private donor community education programs, expert nonprofit leaders are invited to share their knowledge as experts, spark new exchanges of ideas and drive funding conversations in new directions.
Third, issue experts who wind up on the agenda of these venues benefit in an enormous way. They meet scores of donors who are in attendance just to hear them. They take and receive business cards from these same individuals. They get to call these donors up and seek coffee and continued conversation about the ideas they espoused during the meetings, the next time they are in town.
You’re probably bursting at the seams with all the ideas you have learned that you want to share with donors in your field. You probably thought donors went out and had 1-on-1 conversations with nonprofit leaders to learn about ideas that will genuinely improve people’s lives or the environment. Or that they read the Chronicle of Philanthropy to find them.
It’s true, they do all these things – but it’s also true that they go to private all-donor conferences where people like you with great ideas, are invited to the podium to speak in front of them and to inform them about what’s working, what they should consider funding, and what kinds of approaches just aren’t worth it any more.
Most nonprofits do not put their energies into trying to access private donor communities. But the ones who do, learn how to become a briefer to donors and how to get their award-winning ideas across to a critical constituency – donors in their field.
This could be you.
To learn more about private donor communities, listen to our webinar, “Gaining Footing in Private Donor Circles in the United States”.