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Funder Networks in Cities or Small Regions

Publication date: 
May, 2011

Do any of you have examples of successful funder networks operating in a city or small region. I am looking for operating examples for volunteer groups, not necessarily independent of Regional Associations, but primarily self-propelled. Trying to understand what makes them successful – hoping that it isn’t only inspired leadership, but that there may be some other characteristics that keep a general network of funders active.

One network meets more or less quarterly, rotates responsibility for the meeting and is open to organized philanthropy and government funders in the county. They share lists of their recent grants and often have a topic of discussion – examples: local nonprofit mergers, funding the arts, etc… They invite Grantmakers Forum once a year to give them a policy update.

A “city” example would be a small city where there are 11 funders and they meet quarterly. They are led by a private foundation and local community foundation. They usually have a theme. Grantmakers Forum participated on a panel to talk about capacity-building strategies last year. This group has developed a common application form and database a la the cultural data project. They went to great lengths to assure that virtually all the nonprofits in their area of the county are signed up and trained to submit applications on line on the common application. 9 of the 11 foundations supported the work.

~Liz Wilder, Grantmakers Forum of New York


Council of New Jersey Grantmakers

I don’t have any volunteer examples but we do have 3 in New Jersey that are working. I would say once they get going it is all about one man one vote. No one has more power than anyone else.

Grantmakers of Oregon and Southwest Washington

We have a very active network focused on Early Childhood. The group has been together for about five years and in the early days, we provided staff support. It now functions with professional staff contributed by the community foundation and is definitely self-propelled. Most of the funders are members of GRANTMAKERS, but not all. They have been so successful that the Governor's staff has met with them twice to get direction on his education policy. If you are interested, I can tell you more. One more example - this a group organized by function not an issue area. There is a funder's network in Southern Oregon close to the California border. It has been around for some five years and is self-propelled. It thrives because a local family foundation has empowered its executive director to do the organizing and programming work. They are inclusive of all funders - operating foundations, public funders etc. - that all serve resource-limited rural communities. The contact person is Kathy Bryon, Gordon Elwood Foundation. She is: Kathy Bryon (

San Diego Grantmakers

Check out these stories about them on our SD Giving Stories site and then I am happy to chat about the dynamics.... some work better than others of course!

North Carolina Network of Grantmakers

We have three very different regional “networks” that operate under the NC Network of Grantmakers (NCNG).

  1. The first, Charlotte Donors Forum, was inherited after the Foundation for the Carolinas was no longer able to provide coordination. It has been an informal gathering of funders/foundations in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg County area. They meet quarterly for lunch. NCNG simply processes invoices and accepts checks to cover the costs of their meetings. It is run by a volunteer group of individuals from foundations that decide the program for the year and executes delivery of the program. Each year one funder is selected to chair the organization, and hence is responsible for moving the “volunteer” program group and pushing for meetings. The “chair” position rotates.
  2. The Chapel Hill Funders’ Group was started when two interested foundations in the area asked to be brought together to learn about each other. NCNG facilitated the first meetings and discussion that resulted in an agreement to meet quarterly. The group also created a jointly funded initiative to map and look at the capacity of youth services in the area. During the quarterly meetings the group usually shares information on grantmaking skills and information about projects on which they are working. No one foundation individual wanted to chair the organization, so as a default NCNG has been serving as chair. As NCNG is located in Chapel Hill, it is easy for us to coordinate without having a group chair, but, luckily, there are five very active foundations in the group.
  3. Western NC Funders – this group has met only once and was brought together to facilitate greater dialogue between funders geographically located in the western part of the state and funders that fund in the western part of the state, but are not located there. They have decided to meet once a year to update each other on their initiatives and develop better working relationships. Two local funders are the “chairs” or leaders of this group.


In each case, success depends on having someone drive the group and also mutual respect between those involved. For the Charlotte Donors’ Forum and the Chapel Hill Funders’ the program for the meetings change to keep discussion lively. Some meetings attract greater attendance than others.

Inspired leadership can be great – if there are those that are willing to follow. Sometimes the neutral leader is just as effective as long as they are organized and commit to leading the meetings.

Donors Forum of Wisconsin

We have several. We have an Early Childhood Affinity group, a child welfare affinity group. A north central funders group, Milwaukee and South Wood county workforce alliances, The Green bay funders four and a basic needs funding collaborative. They are all members of DFW we support them in the beginning with admin and all are now run by volunteers we do act as fiscal agent for three of them.

Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers

We have a group of funders in Annapolis that meet quarterly and our partner is the local community foundation. We do invite non-ABAG members but mainly see this as a way to provide some service to members in this locale. The onus does seem to fall on our staff more than we had expected but do think this is worthwhile. My sense is to keep expectations relatively low and focus on the informal convening of the group.

Indiana Grantmakers Alliance

IGA supports multiple funder networking groups (region-based, issue-based, type of foundation-based, type of staff person-based), each one a little different in terms of meeting format/content. We have primarily provided the logistics support—coordinating dates, identifying a host, sending out invite/reminders, etc. but also usually work with a key funder(s) in the group to develop the “program.” All have members and nonmembers that attend. Some of them started up organically but lost momentum when the primary driver left, didn’t want to do anymore, or whatever, so IGA stepped in.

There are also a couple of other informal networks that are totally self-propelled, small city based. They rotate the “chair”, share updates about what is going on with their foundation, etc. In one of the groups, they collect and disseminate an ongoing list of the capital campaigns going on in their community. IGA does not play a formal role with either, but at least once a year ask if we can participate by bringing a topic to the Southwest Indiana Grantmakers group, and we do facilitate a Northeast Indiana funders network that many of the Fort Wayne funders group also attend. I’m not sure what the driving force is behind these two groups other than an established history of meeting and sharing.