When funders get together to connect, talk and build relationships with one another, big things can happen.
Consider, for example, this analysis of over $14 million awarded to nonprofits in Frederick County, Maryland, along with a growing understanding of how local giving relates to community needs.
The Origins of Our Funders Group
About five years ago, a group of funders in Frederick County, Maryland realized we were all using the same grants management system: Foundant’s Grant Lifecycle Manager, or GLM. As a result, we started meeting every other month to talk about the system, and how we could leverage this shared technology to streamline grant applications for local grantseekers.
The working group is made up of lean funders in our area:
- Delaplaine Foundation, Inc.
- Frederick County Government
- The Ausherman Family Foundation
- The Community Foundation of Frederick County
- The Helen J. Serini Foundation
- The Kahlert Foundation
- The United Way of Frederick County
However, the data project includes grantmaking data from more organizations in the area.
Collaborating for Data Sharing
What started as a conversation about streamlining applications turned into a desire to better understand what we were funding, and what we were not funding. In particular, the group discussed:
- Who was funding education projects? Or, were none of us?
- Was there enough general operating support made available in our community? Or, was our collective giving restricted?
- Were we supporting long-standing community nonprofits, while still making space for new initiatives?
- How did our collective funding align (or not) with the Community Foundation’s Human Needs Assessment, and with the United Way of Frederick County’s ALICE Report?
The group amassed data from our internal grantmaking systems to address these questions, while maintaining our initial intentions. We sought permissions for data-sharing, and we defined and refined how we’d code the data. Eventually, we enlisted a data-based consultant to help develop the taxonomy. They also analyzed the resulting report in the context of existing assessments on community needs.
What Our Funders Group Learned
Our funder collaborative learned a lot from the first report, for instance:
- We gave out substantially more funding as a collective than we’d thought—nearly $14 million across participating funders.
- There were local philanthropies not included in our original working group whose insights were valuable to answering these questions.
- In some areas, our collective giving directly aligned with stated community needs (e.g., addressing ACEs). But in other places, it did not (e.g., supporting our county’s growing senior population).
- For some grants, our coding taxonomy worked well. But others needed to be adjusted and/or completely reconsidered. These mostly related to race and ethnicity demographics.
- Our grantmaking addressed emergency needs (likely a result of this first report coinciding with COVID-19), but overlooked preventative funding.
These insights are all important. However, the time, trust and relationships that enabled them continue to be the most valuable.
We got to know one another through job changes, babies, moves and new hires. Thus, the group built trust across entities that hadn’t worked together closely; and shared data across organizations. Discussing letters of intent, applications, evaluations, and reporting, we came to understand one another’s funding processes; and thought about how our timing synced with other funders. Additionally, we found opportunities for co-funded convening and non-profit capacity building trainings along the way.
What’s Next for Our Funders Group?
Our initial analysis centered on 2020 grantmaking, and we are currently working on coding our 2021 data. At the same time, we’re also looking ahead to see where we might need to tweak our taxonomy for 2022 and beyond.
Our working group continues meeting monthly to chat about all things grantmaking. This includes how we as individual funders and as a collaborative can meet our community’s needs on an ongoing basis.
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About the Author
Kerry McHugh is program officer at The Helen J. Serini Foundation, named after her grandmother. She also serves on the board of Exponent Philanthropy. This blog was drafted in conjunction with others from the Frederick Funders group, an informal network of local funders who gather regularly to talk about philanthropy and how best to support our community.