Authentic relationships are key to fundraising success

by Hudson Kaplan-Allen 
WRAG’s 2016 Summer Intern

How important is it for funders and grantees to have authentic relationships? Very important, according to the “Dos and Don’ts of Working with Grantmakers,” the first session of WRAG’s 2016 Nonprofit Summer Learning Series. Keynote speaker Rick Moyers of the Meyer Foundation, and panelists Julia Baer-Cooper, consultant with the England Family Foundation and Prince Charitable Trusts, Ben Murphy of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and Tracye Funn of Washington Gas shared advice ranging from how to initiate a partnership with a grantmaker to how to craft an effective proposal.

Nonprofits often view funders as if they were an ATM machine, trying to figure out the right pin, Moyers said. It is a game of cracking the code with the hope that the prize will be a blank check. Fifteen years ago, Moyers was an eager nonprofit leader looking to increase support from his biggest funder. Moyers found himself at a reception with the executive director of the foundation. His first instinct was to approach the E.D. and get straight to the point – and that is exactly what he did. Fast forward to the present, Moyers has, on occasion, found himself in his former funder’s shoes. Interactions like these are never authentic. Conversations should not be about a transaction, but about cultivating a common vision for the future. It’s important, too, to be a good listener.

Moyers and others addressed the question that every nonprofit leader has contemplated: what is the most common reason grant requests get turned down? Funn responded that if a funder truly believes in a program, they will find the money or try to connect the applicant with another potential funder. Murphy pointed out that if there is a great project hidden behind a poor proposal, it deserves a chance. Baer-Cooper noted that requests are frequently turned down by small family foundations because they don’t have enough resources to fund everything that comes their way.

Participants asked about strategies and practices for approaching grantmakers. Nonprofits should have an idea of what the foundation is looking for, the panelists said. No one wants to receive a generic cookie-cutter email. It’s frustrating to sit down with someone who hasn’t done his or her homework.

Moyers concluded where he began, with a discussion of authentic relationships between funders and grantees. To Murphy, authenticity is about reaching a point in the relationship where he and his grantees can have honest conversations and work hand-in-hand to effectively address organizational and societal challenges. Baer-Cooper defines authenticity as transparency and honesty. Funn emphasized the importance of being true to your values. “Don’t change who you are, just bring me into your world,” she said. Ultimately, programs that connect authentically are the ones that will succeed.


To learn more about the 2016 Nonprofit Summer Learning Series, please check out our recent announcement in The Daily WRAG. To register for the next two events in the series (July 14 and August 19), please visit WRAG’s online event calendar.

Business and Philanthropy: A partnership whose time has come

by Tamara Copeland
President
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Last week, Bob Buchanan, principal of Buchanan Partners, a real estate development company, and president of the 2030 Group, an association of business leaders focused on regional issues and solutions, came to speak to WRAG member CEOs as part of our CEO Coffee and Conversation series. He was invited after he and Dr. Stephen Fuller (of the Center for Regional Analysis, George Mason University) called for a regional economic summit.  They suggested that, because the backbone of our region’s economy has been the federal government and that given the changes in our region’s relationship to this hometown employer, we must create a new regional economic reality.  They also underscored the fact that this isn’t a situation to be addressed solely by the District of Columbia or Fairfax, VA, or any other jurisdiction in our region, but a regional problem that should be examined as a whole and addressed by regional leaders using a broad lens and a long-range view.

I invited Bob to speak because, surprisingly, they hadn’t viewed philanthropy as one of the sectors to call to the planning table until I reached out. When asked why philanthropy wasn’t included, Bob responded, “business leaders go to those who can move the needle.”

What a wake up call!  Clearly, philanthropy wasn’t viewed as a change agent.

For years, I have thought that philanthropy doesn’t do enough to highlight the role that it plays in social change. That’s why we produced Beyond Dollars in 2009, featured Philanthropy Factoids in the Daily WRAG throughout 2011, and updated Beyond Dollars with a progress report in 2013. We wanted to showcase all that philanthropy does to improve people’s lives.  Unfortunately, that message hasn’t reached the business community, and part of that responsibility lies with us.  When I look back over the speakers that WRAG has presented over the last decade, I can’t find one business leader who isn’t also a philanthropist.  Until the conversation with Bob Buchanan, WRAG had not invited a business leader to present his or her ideas to philanthropy. We had not explored with business shared views and values toward possible shared action. In retrospect, wow.

So, WRAG is working to change that.  Bob Buchanan underscored the altruistic role that funders can play. He noted that when he speaks up for a particular need, he is often lumped in the category of “greedy developer” just trying to make his project work. Often, yes, he is trying to make a project happen, but it is a project that can improve the lives of many who live in a specific community.  His business identity often obscures the fact that he wants to turn a profit and improve the community.  He challenged the funding community to:

  • Consider how they are perceived as only helping the “un-” and “under-” members of the community. He acknowledged that funders are trying to improve the lives of all who live in a community and that when the “un”served or “under”served are helped, all community members are helped. He feels that the business community doesn’t see the role of philanthropy as helping everybody;
  • Look at how they might support start-up businesses that can improve the viability of communities just as they support start up/innovative, new social profit organizations; and
  • Make financial investments with their assets, not just grants.

He believes that elected officials charged with serving their discrete constituencies and limited by a relatively brief time in office can’t be the sole partners of business, particularly in pursuit of a new regional economic dynamic. He wants philanthropy to play a role.  Now we must determine what that role should be.

Why we’re getting on the map: The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia

We’ve heard from several funders recently about why they are participating in WRAG’s Get on the Map campaign with the Foundation Center. These funders appreciate the value of both sharing their grants data with their colleagues in the local philanthropic community, and having access to their colleagues’ data in order to work more strategically and efficiently.

The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia is one of the latest funders to sign on to the campaign.

According to foundation president Eileen Ellsworth,

“The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia is thrilled to participate in the ‘Get on the Map’ initiative. As a funder, our role is to remain informed about the needs of the region, identify the organizations working to address those needs, and understand the funders interested in supporting their efforts. Our community is so rich with both nonprofits and funders. Not only will this powerful tool shine a light on philanthropy trends in the region and help us to guide our future work, but it will also help us more strategically target and coordinate grant dollars to support the greatest needs in the region.”

Says Jen McCollum, Vice President of Donor Relations,

“Armed with the data generated through this initiative, we will be better equipped to educate our donors about the needs of the region. We know there are great things being done by nonprofits in the area but we also know there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. This concrete data will help us better direct our efforts, inform our donors and generate increased partnerships with like-minded funders in the region.”


Get on the Map is an initiative to improve the quality, timeliness, and availability of grants data for and about funders. By e-reporting their grants data to the Foundation Center, WRAG members will help to build an interactive mapping platform that will allow members to see who is funding what and where in our region. To learn more about the platform and how to contribute your data, watch this recent webinar or sign up for the next webinar on April 9.

Growing philanthropy in our region | A first quarter report to the community

by Tamara Copeland
President
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

“Why aren’t there more national funders investing in our region?”

“Who else is funding XXX?  I need to know so we can coordinate better.”

“I can’t be the primary funder forever.  YYY needs more funding partners.”

At WRAG, we hear these comments and others like them all of the time from our members. This quarter “growing philanthropy in the region” has become our focus.

Most of the time, at WRAG, we wear the hat of the convener, or the voice of philanthropy, or the information aggregator.  For the first quarter of 2015, we have elevated another aspect of our work – fund developer. I know that this isn’t a descriptor that you typically associate with WRAG, but it is central to our role. Even our mission statement says that in addition to promoting effective and responsible philanthropy, we are “to increase philanthropy in the region.”   So, we’ve taken a number of new steps this quarter to do just that.

In January, Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury, CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Arkansas, spoke at WRAG’s CEO Coffee and Conversation series.  Why?  Because Sherece had done a phenomenal job of bringing national funders into Arkansas, a state that, like the Greater Washington region, was rarely the pilot site of any major national initiatives.  We wanted to learn how she and her colleagues had managed to bring in millions in new revenue to social profits located in Arkansas in a relatively short period of time.  We heard her message of bold, coordinated action. Now a group of WRAG members is exploring how we might move forward in a similar way in our backyard.

In February, we launched the Get on the Map campaign, an effort to gather data on who is giving to which social profits in our region. Why? On the surface, this may appear to be a simple data mapping project.  It is that, of course, but it is also a means of assessing where investments are not being made in the region, and of providing a platform that might lead to better coordination of giving — a service that the WRAG community has wanted for years.

This month, we announced a new WRAG initiative, a two-day workshop on the Fundamentals of Corporate Social Responsibility.  Why?  Because we know that every funder and every social profit organization – both grantor and grantee – wants to expand the funding pool.  Through this workshop, we hope to help the local social profit sector better understand the constraints and opportunities that rest in the corporate community.  This knowledge will lead to more focused, appropriate proposals and to better partnerships to address the overall needs of the region.

And, it doesn’t stop there. In May, WRAG will be shining a spotlight on the needs of Loudoun County, just as we did years ago on Prince George’s County. Why? To showcase a part of our region that needs  greater philanthropic investment.  Many believe that WRAG’s role made a difference in Prince George’s. Now we hope to do the same thing in Loudoun.

It’s springtime. The seeds are being planted.  You’ll know when they bear fruit!

Why I’m excited about the DC Cultural Data Project

By Michael Bigley
Program Officer, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, and Chair, WRAG’s Arts and Humanities Working Group

Imagine being able to create funder and annual reports with the click of a mouse.

Imagine accessing data from over 11,500 nonprofits and analyzing trends in the field.

The new DC Cultural Data Project (DC CDP; www.dcculturaldata.org) can do just that and more.

The CDP is a sophisticated online system for collecting and disseminating high-quality data on nonprofit arts and culture organizations. Last week D.C. joined 11 states, including Maryland, as the 12th member of the Cultural Data Project, which is operated by Pew Charitable Trusts. Aimed at creating efficiencies for nonprofits, the CDP uses audited financial statements and statistical information to paint a vivid picture of the arts and culture scene in the District.

Information on cash flow, audience attendance, youth engagement, ticket sales, and more is available to be compared in aggregate with other nonprofits, both locally and nationally. Specifically tailored funder reports can be printed or e-mailed for an instant snapshot on the fiscal health of an organization. Also with this data, researchers and arts advocates now have an unprecedented source of standardized, longitudinal data on the local arts and culture sector.

My excitement with the CDP stems from the greater possibilities that regional nonprofits now have to tell their story. D.C. has a vibrant arts and culture scene that has faced challenges of late given the difficult economy and the decrease in available funding. It is my hope that the data made available to the community will provide compelling arguments for funding the arts sector, demonstrating that the arts intersect with many areas of society and create communities where we want to live.

The DC CDP was ignited by the WRAG’s Arts and Humanities Working Group and is the result of collaboration with public and private funders and advocacy agencies. Participation in the CDP is encouraged, with several trainings currently available and a comprehensive website with online training modules.


Nonprofits:

CDP staff will be in D.C. hosting orientation sessions on October 17 and 18 at various locations around the city. This is a great opportunity to find out more about the CDP and to learn about the types of data collected. Click here for more information and to register.