COF: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

From May 2 – May 7, the Tactical Philanthropy Blog Team will be covering the Council on Foundations conference from Atlanta. The individual blog team members represent a range of opinions and have been given no editorial directions. The opinions expressed in these posts do not necessarily represent the opinions of Sean Stannard-Stockton.

Katy Moore, Washington Grantmakers

COF’s 60th Annual Conference is taking place in a different world than last year’s conference. On Day 1, traditional conversations have given way to more urgent discussions about how we can collaborate, support each other (and our grantees),  and make strategic decisions about the short-term crisis while also setting the stage for longer-term solutions.

I was just involved in one such conversation, as representatives from the various “philanthropic infrastructure” organizations (regional associations, affinity groups, COF, ASF, etc) gathered to explore how to work together to reduce duplication, support one another and move our field forward in a more strategic way. As one participant put it, “we can use this economic downturn as an opportunity to be proactive about working together or we can wait until our hand is forced by our members and funders.”

Themes of the conversation included:

1) The potential for program and content collaboration is great.There’s no reason for us ALL to design a program on X. It is neither cost effective nor field-building. Reinventing the wheel is wasteful and working in isolation, inevitably, results in the creation of a cadre of mediocre programs.

2) The current revenue model in place at many philanthropic support organizations (i.e. membership dues + grant dollars) does not foster collaboration. Rather, the current model  (especially when coupled with the economic downturn) increases competition and territory. The suggestion was made to conduct a financial feasibility study of deep organizational collaborations, curriculum sharing and even, potentially, joint memberships.

3)  If field-wide collaboration is to be a reality, we will need some pretty strong “glue” to keep the work moving forward. Proposed solutions included a commitment from session participants to meet at least annually face-to-face, creating a steering committee to ensure the conversation continues in a meaningful way, and using social network to keep folks tied together over time and distance.

I don’t know how this important conversation will play out, but, one thing’s for sure…we’re not in Kansas anymore! If you have suggestions or comments on how your infrastructure organizations can work together, please let me know! Post back here or contact me directly at

Katy Moore is director of member services at Washington Grantmakers.