Note from Beth: I’m hosting a small army of guest bloggers, grantmakers, who are attending the GeoFunders National Conference taking place this week in Seattle. The GEO community is united by a common drive to challenge the norm in pursuit of better results. GEO’s 2012 National Conference shares a range of perspectives and new ideas for smarter grantmaking that leads to better results and presents opportunities for participants to learn from the wisdom and experience of their peers. If you’re not attending and curious what funders are learning, you’ll have an opportunity to read some of the ideas and questions being discussed right here on this blog.
GEO: Back to Basics – guest post by Kathy Reich
I always have a great time at a GEO conference. It feels like a master class for grantmakers. In recent years, GEO has been at the forefront of “next practice” in philanthropy—focusing on issues like scaling impact, network effectiveness, and promoting empathy in grantmaking.
It’s always fun to talk about what’s new in philanthropy. Sometimes, though, I worry that we lose sight of what’s “old.” Funders can be so focused on the cutting edge that we start to ignore the basics. When that happens, our work becomes less effective, less efficient, and less relevant to the issues that we are trying to address and the people we are trying to serve.
That’s why I loved this year’s GEO conference. Along with a healthy dose of cutting-edge philanthropic practice (and some bold experiments in conference format and tone), GEO reminded me of some enduring truths about how to be a good grantmaker. In the past couple of days, I’ve attended keynotes, short talks, breakout sessions, and informal discussions on “basic” topics like how to work with intermediaries, how to foster creativity, and how to support grantees on a path to financial sustainability. In each one, I re-learned at least one thing that I already knew—but that somehow, along the way, I seemed to have forgotten.
Here are a few lessons re-learned that I’ll take home with me from Seattle:
- Give general operating support whenever you can—for as many years at a time as you can.
- Listen to your grantees, much, much more than you talk.
- Only collect data that you actually plan to use.
- When you ask for feedback, commit to respond to it, reflect upon it, and use it.
- A good story will trump good data, every single time. So be sure that you’ve got not just the facts, but a powerful story to tell about the facts.
- If you’re looking to spark your own creativity, or anyone else’s, then create time and space for that creativity to happen. Turn off the damn IPhone and go take a walk.
- And last but not least: Grit and determination will get you far in life. My mother would definitely agree.
What lessons did you re-learn at GEO?
Kathy Reich is Director of Organizational Effectiveness Grantmaking at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and is learning to love every mistake she’s ever made.