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Learning Opportunities Abound at the PEAK Grantmaking Annual Conference

April 20, 2018

As grants management professionals, one of the most important parts of our job is a commitment to consistent learning. Even after years in this sector, we are always eager to learn about new trends, discuss creative approaches, and connect with others in the space to help make our grantmaking more thoughtful and impactful.

As part of our commitment to learning, we were happy to attend the 13th Annual PEAK Grantmaking Annual Conference held in Orlando, Florida last month. We participated in three days packed with conversation, networking, and creative thinking around the future of grantmaking and connecting values with grantmaking practices. Over 850 grants management professionals attended the more than 60 conference sessions that comprised seven learning tracks: Compliance; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Effective Practices; Knowledge Management; Leadership; Outcomes/Evaluation and Technology.

PEAK Grantmaking is a leading member-led professional development organization for grants managers. Originally established as a group of New York City-based grantmaking staff who met informally to share challenges and insight gained from their roles, the organization now serves as a thought leader in the space of grants management. Together, the group published “Best Practices in Grants Management” as a benchmark for the policies and processes at grantmaking organizations across the country and by 1996, launched into a national organization of grantmaking professionals.

After three days of unique and thoughtful events and learning sessions, we were able to walk away with new perspectives on approaching grants management.

Trust-Based Philanthropy

Opening Plenary speakers Pia Infante of The Whitman Institute and Philip Li of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation kicked off the conference with a conversation centered on the Whitman Institute’s 9 Key Principles of Trust-Based Philanthropy. These principles forced attendees to reckon with outdated grantmaking practices that prevent funders from developing equal relationships with grantee partners. Some important questions and takeaways from this conversation:

  • Philanthropy is an “echo” of society’s social, economic, and racial biases. How do we design grantmaking practices that overcome those biases?
  • Transparency with grantees is crucial when there is a grantmaking practice required by legal counsel.
  • Funders expect their grantee partners to innovate – are we as funders innovating as well?
  • Are we committed to reading every single word of the proposal and reports submitted by our grantee partners? Doing so humanizes the grantmaking process.

Continuous Learning

The following are some highlights of the conference sessions we attended:  

  • International Grantmaking: For grantmakers like RPA that fund organizations in other countries, the conference is a great opportunity to learn about new regulations impacting the ability for international NGOs to receive foreign donations. As our clients expand their grantmaking in different parts of the world, we feel confident in our knowledge to anticipate any challenges to making these grants and reacting accordingly.
  • Donor-Advised Funds (DAF): As donor-advised funds expand in popularity among vehicles for charitable giving, we enjoy hearing about the current state of DAFs and new guidance released by the IRS related to DAF grantmaking. Many of the foundations represented at the conference are community foundations, so this session is a great opportunity to network with colleagues who manage their foundation’s DAFs.
  • Risk Management in Grantmaking: This session introduced a Risk Management toolkit for funders to use in assessing and mitigating risk in their grantmaking to ensure that their grantee partners can achieve their goals.

RPA at the Conference

CAF America, an organization assisting corporations, foundations, and individuals with international grantmaking, is coming out with a book called Cross-Border Giving: A Legal and Practical Guide. Shermane was among an exclusive group of participants who were given a sneak peak of the book, which has been endorsed by Melissa Berman and features a chapter on the Sustainable Development Goals written by Heather Grady.

Liz Donohue co-presented a session called Improv Comedy for Grants Managers (Seriously!)—A Fresh Take along with Jen Bokoff of the Foundation Center. A departure from the typical lecture-style conference sessions, Liz and Jen led participants through exercises connecting improv concepts with scenarios in our day to day work. The improv concept of “yes, and” teaches us how to build on and lift up each other’s ideas and perspectives, which encourages empathy and creativity among our colleagues.

The conference closed with a conversation featuring Kelly Brown from the D5 Coalition (a former sponsored project of RPA), on the current demographics of philanthropy and an appeal to funders to strengthen equity and inclusiveness in our grantmaking. It was an inspiring call to action to cap off the conference, and we left full of new ideas and learnings to share with our colleagues and incorporate into our work.

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