Philanthropy Northwest

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The "Special Sauce" of Building Community Philanthropy

The "Special Sauce" of Building Community Philanthropy

January 22, 2015

Audrey Haberman, The Giving Practice

Last week I had the pleasure of joining with my colleague Ted Lord to co-lead our sixth biannual Building Community Philanthropy (BCP) convening. Building Community Philanthropy is a learning cohort of community foundations, United Ways and identity funds that are working in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to alleviate intergenerational poverty through community engagement and philanthropy.

Audrey Haberman leads "offers and requests" at Building Community Philanthropy

Audrey Haberman leads "offers and requests" at Building Community Philanthropy


Together, we have begun to articulate together some of the “special sauce” that has built trust and candor across those working to grow community philanthropy across Washington and in the Portland metro area. Some key ingredients participants have identified include:

Unusual Bedfellows: The BCP community consists of United Ways, community foundations and statewide funding intermediaries like Potlatch and Pride Foundation. Each of the 22 participating groups sends two staff and two board members. The group members say they appreciate the opportunity to learn alongside other similar and different as a way to affirm a strategy or discover new ways of engaging communities.

Let People Talk: We aim for participants to spend at least half of our time together talking to each other in their groups or with other groups. We try and honor a range of learning pathways that don’t (always) involve white papers, talking heads and florescent lighting.

Cohorts Work: We recognize that everyone in the room brings wisdom to share and that often what’s most needed is time to listen and align. Group members shared that by meeting regularly they have found a comfort and trust that allows them to admit challenges and failures and return the next time with new stories of success.

One special moment from this meeting was incorporating a section on offers and requests to encourage follow-on self-organizing and peer mentoring. I spontaneously decided to get folks on their feet. People lined up across the room, then one participant from each organization shared one thing they felt they could offer others in the cohort. Once we reached the end of the line, we reversed the order and had them share something they could use help with. Immediately they began connecting, sharing resources and getting advice – and most importantly, filling the room with energy and knowing laughter grounded in the tangible realization that we often share similar opportunities and dilemmas.

Audrey Haberman is managing director of The Giving Practice, Philanthropy Northwest's consulting team. She can be reached at