By Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group
This post originally appeared on Putnam Consulting Group’s Philanthropy 411 blog (July 3, 2017). Kris’s tips apply to all types of convenings, whether bringing together funders, grantees, or a mix.
My firm recently helped the David and Lucille Packard Foundation conduct a series of small gatherings of funders to discuss the Foundation’s learnings from a seven-year investment in summer learning. (For more information about that initiative, download the summary report we created, or visit the Foundation’s website.) While the convenings were specific to the summer learning topic, I observed several actions within them that I’d consider best practices for using small group gatherings for intentional learning, no matter what the subject.
1. Keep it casual and comfortable. Each convening was intentionally small—no more than 20 people—which allowed participants to gather around a common table. This fostered a sense of intimacy and a conversational tone. In addition, the Foundation provided a meal, either breakfast or lunch depending on the time of day, and allowed plenty of time for participants to enjoy it without feeling rushed. This also allowed foundation representatives in the room to catch up with old friends and meet new people, further building the sense of camaraderie and conversation.
2. Be clear that it’s a conversation, not a presentation. At the beginning of each gathering, the Packard staff made it clear that they had learned a great deal from listening to other funders, and they were hoping to continue that by having the funders in the room share their reactions and insights on the summer learning work. While the Packard staff did kick off the conversation with a quick overview of their initiative’s strategy, outcomes and lessons learned, the bulk of the agenda was allocated for questions and discussion. In fact, the agenda even included specific smaller one-to-one conversation time in which participants could dive into whatever aspects of the work caught their interest most—after which they shared highlights with the group.