What can 350 women donors tackle in three days?

Everything from governance to gratification.

At the recent “We the Women: Changing the Face of Philanthropy” conference in Philadelphia, women of all ages, backgrounds, experience and geography came together to explore the many facets of collective giving, a form of philanthropy that pools women’s individual donations into collective grants.

Over the course of the conference’s three days, plenary and breakout sessions explored collective giving philosophies and practices. Sessions covered the critical role communications plays in a collective giving organization’s success – using social media and technology effectively, planning for the long-term to ensure we convey the message we want and establish our organization’s culture. Presenters spoke about governance – how to manage transitions on a board of directors, create a pipeline of future leaders, manage membership growth, and achieve financial sustainability. In grantmaking, women talked about measuring the impact of our funding dollars; building member consensus for organizational change; using research to guide strategic decisions; and confronting the implicit bias that is likely influencing our grantmaking. Regarding membership, presenters discussed ways to drive growth; provide a positive and inclusive experience for members; implement a member program for younger women; and improve diversity, equity and inclusion in all elements of our organizations.

The convening organization, the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (renamed Catalist this month) hosts a conference like this every 18 months. The 2018 host organization, Impact100 Philadelphia, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and has pumped nearly $3 million into the Philadelphia region, aimed at supporting the core mission of smaller, lesser-known nonprofit organizations.

Here’s a look at some of the major takeaways from our three days in Philadelphia:

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are key values shared by collective giving organizations but they have not yet been given sustained attention and focus. What can be done? Read up; more and more is being written and shared on these topics with regard to research, strategies, and guidelines. Come up with a plan, if possible by consulting with a professional experienced in this work. Dive in, knowing that this is challenging and you will almost certainly take some missteps along the way.  But don’t let a fear of mistakes stop you from trying.

Continuous improvement is another value broadly held by collective giving organizations. From the smallest and newest groups to those that have been around 10 or 15 years or longer, the women leading these organizations know that the key to success is listening to members, applicants and grantees. Seeking feedback, being responsive and willing to adapt, and being transparent about leadership decisions is how our organizations stay strong and grow stronger.

A deep sense of gratification is yet another common thread. Women volunteers who lead collective giving organizations work hard – in the range of 15 to 60 hours a week, depending on the time of year and stage in their organization’s life cycle. These leaders run the gamut from stay-at-home moms to senior business executives, from active retirees to part-time attorneys and teachers and physicians. They dedicate themselves to this movement that pools individuals’ donations into large grants capable of making a very big difference in their communities. The common feeling among collective giving leaders is that this work is deeply fulfilling and extremely important. The more time and effort we give to it, the more effectively our organizations can serve our communities and people in need.

Read the WCGN We The Women conference report for more details.