Philanthropic togetherness, Part 1

By Merrill Wolf

In its first year of full-time operation, the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers has worked to help funders reach common understanding of issues affecting the state, give them opportunities to share experiences and strategies for addressing those issues, and spur collaborative grantmaking.

“We want to provide that space for individual members – foundation staff, trustees and board members – to grow professionally and as grantmakers to help bring foundations together so they can learn from each other as institutions, and to bring more foundations into the state,” says Bobbi Hapgood, the network’s executive director.

With a progressive history, visionary leaders and strong philanthropic and nonprofit community, she says, “North Carolina is seen as the gateway to the southeast, a testing ground for the region.”

A key goal is to “bring more dollars to this state because we are well organized and foundations that work nationally can see that their dollars will go farther, she says.

Founded in 2002 in the midst of a state budget crisis that cut off millions of dollars to nonprofits, the network has grown from an occasional meeting of grantmakers and an electronic listserv to a full-service forum for information-sharing and cooperation with 66 members, including corporate, private and community foundations.

Members pay annual dues ranging from $250 to $2,500, depending on their annual grantmaking.

To be eligible, grantmakers must award at least $50,000 annually for charitable projects in North Carolina.

Hapgood was hired as the network’s first director in May 2005, bringing experience as both a grantmaker and grantseeker.

She has served for nearly two decades as trustee of a family foundation in Connecticut and worked for several North Carolina nonprofits.

With help from a part-time consultant and whatever board members and other volunteers she can press into service, Hapgood in one year has boosted network membership by more than 15 percent and expanded its activities to include a newsletter, website, teleconferences, policy briefings, an annual meeting, working groups on issues suggested by members, and a peer-support network for young people working in philanthropy.

She has also largely weaned the network from the foundation support that launched it.

Although several foundations still help out with grants and by sponsoring meetings and programs, membership dues and related fees now support most of its $90,000 annual budget.

“I’m a tightwad,” Hapgood says, “always looking for ways to cut costs.”

For the most part, Hapgood says, members haven’t yet had enough in-depth discussions to make major changes in their giving strategies.

But the network has educated grantmakers on several key topics, she says, and given them the opportunity to discuss freely, in what she calls a “non-solicitation environment,” the most effective philanthropic responses, including ways to coordinate their giving.

To date, policy briefings have addressed topics as diverse as the environment, education, immigration and domestic violence, focusing on conditions, challenges and needs specific to North Carolina.

Other story in series:

Part 2: Grantmakers network spurs collaboration.

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