What if donors had really cool, trusted places to learn and gather? What would those places be like?
I’ve been puzzling through this question for a couple weeks after reading recent research and commentary on how donors use or don’t use information to guide their giving.
I think much of the answer can be drawn from what philanthropy is learning from working with and through networks. Working Wikily, The Networked Nonprofit, and the Network of Networked Funders are just three of the popular resources. But my primary inspiration is a recent conversation with community development guru Bill Traynor and board members of Grassroots Grantmakers. Bill heads Lawrence CommunityWorks in Massachusetts. He and his team are going through the hard work of restructuring the nonprofit to operate more as a network rather than a traditional community center or social service provider.
I’ve used the insights Bill shared with the group to create a hypothetical “Community Giving Center” – both a physical and online place in which we can try some of Bill’s and others’ ideas. I think the ideas could be applied to donor service organizations such as community foundations, United Ways, giving circles, or some wealth management offices.
So, what’s a cool, trusted Community Giving Center all about?
It’s about a “human environment” – the vibe of a place makes or breaks a person’s participation and behaviors. It’s about the right room set-up, the feeling of welcome and friendly fun, the interactivity. Traynor said Lawrence CommunityWorks is becoming not a social service agency (though it offers services) but a place that people love to come “to bump up against one another.” Maybe our ideal Community Giving Center would even be a great Third Place, an anchor of creative community life.
What if your local United Way was a place that donors loved to hang out informally and share their passions about life and the community? A place that donors came to be inspired at their own leisure instead of just to sit on a committee? Or, what if the United Way relocated some staff to existing Third Places frequented by generous individuals?
It’s about “value exchange” and “co-creation” – the place would be about collaborating to find answers, not about “servicing donors.” Traynor reminded our group that people are most willing to bring different forms of capital (intellectual, relational, financial etc.) when they see opportunities for good value exchange. They’ll be more likely to return to a place if: a) they feel like they can get stuff done that’s important to them, b) their perspectives and needs are valued, and c) there’s reciprocity in the relationship.
When Generous Jim walks in, a Community Giving Center staff member would sit down with him in a casual environment and talk through what Jim was trying to accomplish. She might introduce him to other people working on the same issue or guide him to some online or print resources (not do it for him). As Jim finds answers and Jim and the staff member get to know each other better, she might invite him to lead a discussion group on the mission trip his family took and what they learned about the needs of the country they visited.
What if your local community foundation didn’t treat donors as sources of new revenue, but treated donors as a latent marketplace of good ideas, relationships, and opportunities to learn and connect? What if the foundation let donors formulate and lead strategic initiatives, helping them get generous stuff done that is meaningful to them?
I’ll add some more thoughts in the next few days. Do you think these ideas could work in your community?