When the Forum network gathered together earlier this month in Denver, Colorado, for the Forum’s Annual Conference, the atmosphere was electric. With the Rocky Mountains as our backdrop, Larry Smith, Founder/CEO of Leading Edge Advisory Firm, kicked off the conference imploring regional associations to reject comfort and find the courage and character needed to be leaders in the philanthropic field. The renewed energy among RAs to connect with each other and collaborate became palpable and the courage and character Smith talked about was evident throughout the conference.
In a network like ours, the focus of any convening is on the people. This year’s conference allowed ample time for all forms of networking, be it as structured job-alike working sessions, a quick pull-up meeting in a conference room, or a good time bellying up to the bar. Attendees enjoyed the extracurricular activities such as a morning bike ride and an evening baseball game, but there was just as much fun to be had in the conference session.
How can regional associations engage members that want to be active participants in the network, not just passive recipients of information? Robin Berkson of Donors Forum (IL) moderated a discussion on member engagement with panelists Lindsey Greenberg of the Gateway Center for Giving, Amanda Gomez of Philanthropy Northwest, and Tom Torretta of Arizona Grantmakers Forum. Gomez suggested “combining new technologies with a personal touch” when describing PNW’s multi-site video teleconference series. Panelists also discussed providing custom research opportunities and enlisting active members in prospecting as innovative solutions for engaging an active membership.
To drive member engagement, RAs must use communication to overcome barriers to participation. In her session, Beach Codevilla of Spitfire Strategies shared the latest marketing communications practices, tools, and tips to apply to each RA’s work. Similarly, at last year’s Forum conference, we heard from Mark Sedway about mapping RA’s business plans based on the value proposition. This year, Sedway led a discussion on how this idea was implemented by Colorado Association of Funders, Indiana Grantmakers Alliance, and Philanthropy New York. The breakthrough that made the difference for Indiana Grantmakers Alliance was the ability to answer the question “Why should you care?” IGA developed a new framework for their communications to address this question and why “Only IGA…” is the go-source for philanthropy in Indiana.
But what about “Only the Forum?” As we see our network model embraced by more and more regional associations, it’s helpful to look at an initiative that is emblematic of the Forum’s network approach. The Knowledge Management Initiative is now in its sixth year and is about to take a big step forward in the form of a Drupal-based content management system. The network has engaged Forum One, one of the foremost Drupal developers, in a discovery phase to get a clearer sense of the future opportunities for all of us in this work. Michael Madison of Forum One presented the findings of their discovery phase and provided an important roadmap for the future of the network’s technology. You can read Forum One’s full report here (login required).
If the KM Initiative is the grandfather of the Forum’s network approach, public policy is an emerging interest area that’s leading the way forward. Rob Collier of Council of Michigan Foundations moderated a panel to discuss how to navigate the ever-changing terrain of policy and politics with help from Kathy Crotty, Former Executive Director of the New Jersey Senate Majority Office, and Jamie Van Leeuwen, Policy Director for Economic Development, Education, and Health & Human Services for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. As the philanthropic sector looks to partner with government, regional associations are poised to maximize the impact of our sector’s engagement.
Kelly Brown, Director of the D5 coalition, and Lawrence T. McGill, Senior Vice President for Research at the Foundation Center, along with the Council of Michigan Foundation’s Vicki Rosenberg led a dynamic discussion of D5’s diversity research and proposed the development of a shared set of metrics that will permit the field to collect diversity data in a coordinated fashion. The importance of this work was echoed in an empowering lunch-time address by Susan Taylor Batten, President and CEO of the Association of Black Foundation Executives.
Once you have your metrics, you can start the work of measuring. Tom Kelly of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Elisabeth Hyleck of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers teamed up for “Measuring Influence and Impact,” a session to provide RAs with a framework for understanding “influence” and related performance measures along with tools for outlining an influence strategy and measuring your progress.
When it comes to presenting your findings, Googler Cole Nussbaumer had us questioning every pie chart we’ve ever made. Nussbaumer encouraged attendees to reimagine how we use data visualization to tell our stories using preattentive attributes such as color, line, size, and position to call attention to the most important data, while eliminating any distracting excess information.
A special thank you goes out to the Conference Committee chaired by Dave Biemesderfer and to Joanne Kelly and Abel Wurmnest of Colorado Association of Funders for acting as our hosts. The Forum would also like to thank the conference’s sponsors— Craftworks Foundation, MicroEdge, ReadyTalk, Rock Bottom Brewery, and Western Union Foundation—for their generous support.
For more conferences photos, check out the slideshow below, or if you have photos of your own you’d like to share, add them to Flickr with the tag “givingforum.” Resources and handouts from this year’s conference are available at www.givingforum.org/11conference (login required).