April 13, 2023
Spring Funders Summit focuses on the changing philanthropic landscape

Grace Nicolette, VP of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, talks at the Funders Summit about trends in philanthropy.

Center for Effective Philanthropy VP Grace Nicolette highlights positive post-COVID changes

By Michelle Xiarhos Curran

Recent research by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) reveals that foundations are working differently than they were in early 2020, and that they plan to maintain those changes in a post-COVID world.

Many foundations are streamlining application and reporting processes to reduce the burden on nonprofits and reach more organizations supporting underserved communities. They are giving out more unrestricted dollars. They are increasing efforts to form partnerships and collaborate. And they are listening more intentionally and more intently to the needs of their grantees.

“These findings are super encouraging,” said CEP Vice President and “Giving Done Right” podcast co-host Grace Nicolette. “If you talk to nonprofit leaders, they are saying, ‘I finally felt seen during this time.’”

Nicolette was on hand for the 2023 Spring Funders Summit, hosted by Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation and Philanthropy Massachusetts, to talk about these findings and what they mean for the future of the philanthropic sector. Dozens of local funders and foundation leaders attended the event, which was held March 23 at Danversport.

The goal of these bi-annual Summits is to bring funders together for an educational experience that sparks conversation and lays the foundation for tackling the region’s social challenges together.

“This co-convening concept and this sharing of ideas and learning is really what this is about,” said ECCF President and CEO Beth Francis. “At the end of the day, I hope we are connecting the dots better together.”

“This is really meant to be an opportunity to see if there are ways to do more with philanthropy,” said Tracy Sawicki, executive director at the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation.

The data on how funders and foundations are changing their approach to philanthropy is indeed promising. The shift in mindset is paving the path to more collective action, transparency and a drive towards systemic change. But, as Nicolette pointed out, that doesn’t mean that all nonprofit organizations are experiencing the same benefits of this post-COVID shift.

According to CEP research, AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) and Native American nonprofit leaders report less positive experiences with their foundation funders than nonprofits of other races and ethnicities.

“Despite the significant challenges facing AAPI and Native American people, most foundations continue to overlook nonprofits that serve these communities,” she said. “My personal observation is that there is a zero-sum mentality when it comes to supporting different races. The racial equity conversation, I hope, can become a ‘both’ ‘and’ conversation.”

Nicolette also spent time talking about the current funding model of well-known philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, whose surprise donations – made after quietly researching and vetting nonprofit organizations – have resulted in billions of dollars in large, unrestricted gifts.

“You might be thinking ‘this is all well and good, but I am no MacKenzie Scott,’ but we can draw some lessons from it,” said Nicolette, who referenced a CEP report on Scott’s giving.

Among those lessons are the recognition that nonprofits matter; that the way you give can empower or disempower people; that equity CAN be advanced through giving and to surrender process for trust.

“Nonprofit leaders hope that their experiences receiving these large, unrestricted gifts from MacKenzie Scott encourage other funders to trust nonprofits more than they have to date,” said Nicolette.

Summit attendees continued the conversation during a Q & A session with Nicolette and then in small groups, where they discussed their successes, struggles and ideas. Groups discussed equity, trust-based philanthropy, transparency in grantmaking, unrestricted funding, the requirements of grant reporting, collaboration and authentic community-building.

“I hope that everyone will take away something important today,” said Francis, who indicated that the conversations that occur after the Summit are critically important to advance collaboration between funders. “Thank you for taking the time with us today and for thinking about how philanthropy can really help and change our communities.”

To learn more about the research and reports mentioned here, please visit www.cep.org.

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