The Learning Network's Learning Work: Lessons From Indianapolis

July 26, 2016

As a learning network, Philanthropy Northwest believes in sharing best practices, convening and collaborating effectively to support our members, partners and communities. Last month, it was our turn: seven members of our team traveled to Indianapolis for the annual conference of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, where we met with our peers from dozens of philanthropy networks and philanthropy-serving organizations working with foundations, corporate giving programs, major donors, impact investors and policymakers to build capacity locally, regionally and nationally.

Anjana Pandey, Member Relations Director

Anjana Pandey, Maya Thornell-Sandifor and Kelley Bevans

I had an incredible experience connecting with my peers across the country, in my first time at the Forum conference. We shared our best thinking on membership, program creation, financial management and public policy while learning from each other. The most important lesson for me was, “I’m not alone!” Many of our partners are thinking about the same issues and are exploring new strategies, so the next time I'm stuck, I just need to pick up the phone and call one the many new friends I made in Indianapolis.

The theme of equity was consistent throughout the conference. Specifically, hearing from our partners in Washington, D.C., Minnesota and Oregon how they infuse an equity lens into their programs and services was important and affirmed one of the main aspects of our new strategy framework.

As a multi-state association, we continue to think about how to frame our public policy work. I explored policy agendas and board policy committees as well as how to partner with our state nonprofit associations for specific policy-related programming and content. This is an area that we are excited to pursue in the coming year.

In my role as member relations director, I connected with my peers about engagement strategies, member recruitment and when and how to think about changing membership dues. I am equipped with ideas to share with my colleagues and board committee as we start our 2017 renewal process.

Maya Thornell-Sandifor, Learning Strategy Director

  • Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) were running themes in many of the plenary and breakout sessions. Regional associations were asked to take leadership on facilitating and creating opportunities for funders to engage in deeper dialogue particularly around racial equity.
  • The Forum unveiled the new strategy to include national affinity groups as members. This creates a great opportunity for partnerships between the national groups and the regional associations. National groups bring content expertise on a particular population or issue focus; regional associations bring localized expertise. With these partnerships, our regional members will benefit from what’s happening in the national landscape on issues important to their grantmaking, with Philanthropy Northwest bringing a local lens to that conversation.
  • Vu Lee, executive director of Seattle's Rainer Valley Corps and voice of Nonprofit With Balls, gave all of us something to think about in his closing keynote. We will be incorporating his suggestions on equitable grantmaking processes into our trainings and workshops.

Kelley Bevans, Information Technology Specialist

  • Along with DEI, collaboration was another theme running through the conference. The Forum shares a collaborative technology platform and the conference was capped with members sharing best practices, mapping out future development and brainstorming on common challenges.
  • The Forum's new strategy to include national affinity groups and philanthropy-serving organizations as members creates a great opportunity to grow the use of the shared technology platform and push for data-driven standards that are not merely quantitative but qualitative.
  • All conference activities underscored the importance of intentionally building and maintaining relationships. When you combine this with the focus on diversity in philanthropy, you see the richness that can result from intentionally reaching out to include relationships and points of view that have not historically been part of the philanthropic mainstream.

Gloris Estrella, Program Manager

Vu Le and Gloris Estrella

I feel like I can finally confess that I love conferences, and this year's Forum conference was pretty great! I was initially excited to get back to Indianapolis, a city I really enjoy visiting. But mostly, I was excited to meet people who automatically understood my work without a confused look. We support foundations in all the great work they do; people in the room got that and understood it. (Doesn't happen very often!)

Other highlights:

  • Connecting with people who do same type of work that I do, particularly colleagues who work with community foundations. The community foundations in our network are pretty amazing, and I'm always looking for opportunities to learn how to continue to support them in their work. Stay tuned to learn more.
  • The candid conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion. As Tamara Copeland from Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG) said, "It's called a journey for a reason." Really appreciated our colleagues from GRANTMAKERS of Oregon and Southwest Washington (GOSW) sharing their journey in embedding equity in their work, from their board to their community; we also learned so much from our friends at Minnesota Council on Foundations. We at Philanthropy Northwest have been going through our own DEI journey, internally and with our network; it felt good not to be alone and validate how much work we've done.
  • Cannot emphasize how much everyone loved Vu Le's keynote speech. Fuzzy animals on slides bring me so much joy and comparing our sector to Game of Thrones was pretty epic. But most importantly, his emphasis on  equity in grantmaking is so important; we've been thinking a lot about how to support our members in their work and we're excited to use some of his resources.
  • Grateful for Forum President David Biemesderfer's leadership, acknowledging the political unrest we've witness these past few months. The role of philanthropy is not only being a neutral convener, but an entity with the right to take a stand against violence and racial division in our communities. Thank you, Dave, for leading by example.

Northwest by Midwest: (left to right) Gloris Estrella, Kelley Bevans, Maya Thornell-Sandifor and Anjana Pandey.

Thanks to the amazing team at the Forum, our local hosts at Indiana Philanthropy Alliance and to our regional association peers and affinity group representatives for a valuable learning experience at #ForumCon16! See you in Washington, D.C. in March for Foundations on the Hill (#FOTH17) and San Francisco next summer for #ForumCon17.

Comments

Great post! Thanks for the great recap of the conference.