GEO: Summer Camp for Philanthropy

Tactical Philanthropy is currently covering the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Kathy Reich of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation.

By Kathy Reich

image I’m writing this on the plane to the GEO conference—United #480, which left San Francisco at 4 pm on Sunday with literally dozens of funders and consultants aboard. It feels a bit like a camp bus (albeit a very quiet, well-behaved camp bus). Some of us were joking that we could just convene the conference on the plane, learn from each other for five solid hours, and then turn around and fly home.

This got me wondering about why we don’t connect with each other much when we’re actually in the Bay Area, at least about effective grantmaking strategies. Sure, I have a brain trust—a handful of program officers at other foundations and a few top consultants, whom I can call with matters large and small. And there’s a larger group that I stay connected to, after a fashion, through somewhat lazy use of LinkedIn and Twitter. (I save Facebook for amusing status updates about my kids.)

But thoughtful, intentional, and regular convenings with my colleagues in philanthropy, to talk about what we’re learning, what we’re struggling with, where we’ve fallen flat on our faces? It rarely happens, even within my own foundation. There’s almost never time. That’s why GEO feels so necessary. It’s like summer camp for the brain—fun, challenging, a chance to see people you really should try to see more of, and very different from the day-to-day grind.

There is one other place where that type of networked learning and candid sharing is taking place for me—The Network of Network Funders, a group of about 20 people that came together last year. We come from foundations large and small, local and global. We’ve met for three rich and thought-provoking two-day convenings, wrestling in very practical terms with what it means for funders to catalyze, support, and evaluate networks that are engaged in broad-scale, ambitious social change. The sessions stretch my mind like taffy.

Want to see what all this network talk is about? Monitor Institute, which facilitates the Network of Network Funders, will be hosting session C6 on Tuesday afternoon. They’re also working on a handbook for network funders, which should be a great resource for the field. And they have a great Web site,, where they make their resources available free of charge.

So how about you? Do you feel like you do enough to learn from your colleagues in philanthropy? Do you feel like you need to do more? Would more thoughtful, intentional networking and peer learning with funders in your community be a worthy investment of your time?

One Comment

  1. Jeff Jackson says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post Kathy. After reading a couple posts, I’m beginning to feel like a virtual GEO participant, even from Mexico.

    Being part of a regularly convening network of peers has indeed been helpful to me over the years. What I also find equally helpful is to be part of networks that might be on the edge of my field or even out of my field.

    Again, thanks for the blog, Twitter and other posts and for helping me feel a bit connected at such a distance.