You want me to travel to Cleveland for two days to learn about the LGBT community and connect directly with local place-based funders? Sign me up!
As a national funder from the David Bohnett Foundation, based in Los Angeles, I was excited not only to learn from other funders and grantees on the ground, but also to share information and make real connections. This ‘immersion tour’ was not your average funder conference. It was several days of site visits, case studies, deep-dive discussions with actual folks doing the hard work, and ample time to break bread with our colleagues.
Michael Fleming, our foundation’s executive director, has a saying that “relationships are primary, everything else is secondary.” This is what the tour was about. Social capital. Let me explain.
When the David Bohnett Foundation makes a grant, it is never just about the financial capital that we provide our grantees. We’re not just a checkbook. Often times, it is about the social capital we bring to the table. It is the relationships and networks we cultivate to further our mission and the missions of our grantees.
One of our amazing grantees is the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. When I learned of this ‘funder tour’, I made sure The Center was included. On the tour, I spent two days with Phyllis Harris (The Center's executive director) and was able to highlight our long time partnership to local Ohio funders. Why not boast about the important work of our grantees?! Funders value peer information differently, and it was a great opportunity to tout a great organization to other potential funders. In addition, although we are already a funder of The Center, our physical distance limits regular communication. Spending face-to-face time with staff of The Center made our partnership and funder/grantee relationship much stronger.
When you spend two days with someone, you really get a better understanding of each other. Meetings are formal. This ‘immersion tour’ was informal. I learned that many funders are scared to fund advocacy—like LGBT issues—as it seems too political. (But isn’t it our job to fund things that no one else wants to fund?) I also learned that many foundation staff understand the needs of the community, but oftentimes there is a huge disconnect with trustees and then the community needs don’t get funded. So we shared how to frame conversations and how to encourage trustees to do more site visits to see what we see. We all have these challenges or opportunities, it all depends on how you look at it.
We were able to have honest conversations about our grant failures and successes as we traveled from one meeting location to the next, walked down the street, or over a drink during dinner. The more information we share, the more efficient and effective we become as funders. I can definitely say that my social capital and the quality of my service—to both my foundation and grantees—have improved. That is priceless.
This post is part of an ongoing blog series detailing Out in Ohio: An LGBTQ Funders’ Immersion Trip in Cleveland which took place on September 8-9, 2016 and was sponsored by the national affinity group, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, and led by local LGBTQ funding ambassadors Kristi Andrasik, The Cleveland Foundation and Brian Schultz, Foundation Center Midwest.