Why We Convene

By Elaine Gast Fawcett on behalf of Exponent Philanthropy

When it comes to learning about important issues and moving the needle in the right direction, convening is a low-cost and high-impact leadership tool you can’t overlook. In fact, many consider it to be a funder’s most underrated. In part 1 of a 2-part series on convening, hear how an Exponent Philanthropy member foundation uses convening to reach its goals. Read part 2 in the series

The Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation started convening 10 partner grantees with two goals in mind: to provide a space where they could share and learn from one another, and to help them feel excited and renewed.

“It started as a way to bring partners together. We thought there would be value in them sharing experiences, challenges they face, and successes they see,” says foundation executive director Janis Reischmann. “Someone reminded us that grantees get caught in the day-to-day of their work, and, if we could do nothing more than to re-inspire and re-energize them, that would serve them well.”

Still, the foundation stepped in with caution.

“We were mindful that some might have trouble saying no when a funder invites them. We didn’t want to waste their time,” says Reischmann. “After the first gathering, we asked them if this had value for them, and, if so, what form, what frequency, what duration, and what topics would be most useful?”

“A big takeaway for us is that we needed to be willing to evolve our ideas about convening. We listen to folks on what works for them, and we’re responsive to their feedback.”

Based on what the partners said, the foundation now convenes two times a year for a full day. Each grantee takes turns hosting the gathering and setting the agenda, which often involves a hands-on workday onsite at the organization’s land, where participants learn by doing. The foundation offers each grantee a $500 honorarium for hosting, plus pays for food and travel for all participants.

According to Reischmann, convening others is both selfish and strategic. “On the selfish side, we learn more when we are listening to our partners. We learn alongside them and benefit from the knowledge they share. That is true for any foundation that convenes others,” she says.

“On the strategic side, we’re providing the opportunity for great learning and great wisdom to happen among our partner organizations. We believe we can provide more than just dollars. We’re inspiring them to share ideas and resources, and there’s a richness of experience and knowledge that they couldn’t get in other ways.”

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Elaine GastElaine Gast Fawcett helps foundations tell their story, educate their stakeholders, and move their mission forward. For 12 years, she has worked nationally to strengthen the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors as a communications and grantmaking consultant. Originally from the Maryland/DC area, Elaine now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Ted and toddler Scarlett. Reach Elaine at elaine@fourwindswriting.com or on Twitter @4WindsWriting.

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