Looking Behind, Looking Ahead: A View from Gateway Center for Giving

By: Mary McMurtrey, President of the Gateway Center for Giving

There is a phrase of which I am quite fond and it goes:  Each new day is a good day to look back and be grateful, look ahead and be hopeful, look around and be helpful.

The Gateway Center for Giving takes that adage quite seriously and quite literally!

At the end of each year we poll our members to learn more about them.  We ask them to share what happened during the previous year and what they think lies ahead in the years to come.  Having done this survey for the last several years, we are now beginning to see some trends post economic meltdown of 2008. It was very interesting to compare the responses to prior years’ surveys and see what is coming into focus for the field of organized grantmaking in the next few years.

In 2009 grantmakers were in emergency mode- they were staying focused on mission, not making multi-year commitments, not accepting new grantees, and reducing special event support.  While the 2009 changes didn’t go away in 2010, grantmakers began to move from lockdown mode to intentional assessment mode- spending time on outcomes and reporting, strategically restructuring and focusing in their grantmaking, and incorporating the use of grantmaking and volunteer tracking technology.

In 2010, the first place that grantmakers said they did a forensic assessment was with their own internal capacity and resources to meet external demands.  Grantmakers realized quickly they couldn’t respond to all the need they saw in the community and that what they could do was really focus their energies on those places where they could make a difference.

So what is there to be grateful for you ask? Well, something else we saw were strengthened relationships with each other as well as with the nonprofits they support.  Moving through some of those very difficult years required collaboration and communication the likes of which we hadn’t seen during more robust economic times.

As many of the grantmakers noted, the changes experienced in 2010, are likely to be around for next two to three years barring any major ordeals in the economy (better or worse). Going forward grantmakers reported they would be operating in a far more strategic giving mode. There were four major trends that were reported including:

  • Volunteerism- swapping dollars for people, strengthening nonprofits with pro bono/in kind, aligning giving with interest of employees
  • The Economy- getting worse/getting better, grant dollars have normalized out, nonprofits continue to stretch
  • Collaboration- streamlined collaborations, leverage limited dollars, NPO consolidations
  • Foundation Strategies- next generation leadership, refine giving to meet business goals, focus on outcomes for impact

Remaining hopeful will also be an important strategy for the years ahead! Not necessarily hopeful that more money will fall from trees or any other creative place you might imagine.  But hopeful that the trend of cooperation, collegiality and collaboration will continue and that while individual nonprofits may continue to struggle, the sector as a whole will begin to emerge stronger.

While the emergency and sense of crisis among funders seems to have given way to a sense of what will be the new normal, grantmakers told us that in order to meet the demands you face on a daily basis that you need four key things from the Gateway Center for Giving:

  • Information: Through our new website and blog we are communicating in real time about the activities and interests of grantmakers – whether it is informing and directing giving in the aftermath of tragedies at home and around the globe or the latest information about capital campaigns in the region, we are using our website more and more to communicate with funders.  Our weekly What Gives offers both national and local perspectives on policy and activities affecting donors and the sector.
  • Collaboration: Sending vital information and convening programs to learn how to work together to attract federal dollars and national funding opportunities.
  • Networking: Our programs are designed to foster the conversation that lead to more informed funders.  We will be offering both skill building and networking programs in 2011 and beyond.
  • Research: Capital Campaign Report, Member Requested Research, and Private $ Public Good

The Center structured our strategic plan in order to be helpful to our members and the larger community. Just like many businesses that have helped the community with emergency funding, volunteer support or renewed and strengthened giving strategies, the Center has created strategies that allow us to meet the immediate needs of our members while allowing for growth opportunities if and when they arise.  If we have learned anything from the past three years it ought to be that there are so many ways to be helpful.  That together (in St. Louis fashion) we can all pull together to learn new ways to support each other.

I hope that you will join us on our journey and embrace the sentiments of gratitude, hopefulness and helpfulness.  Remember, we can do together what we cannot do alone.  Throughout the year we will blog intermittently about how we are doing as an organization in terms of meeting the needs of our members and share with the community what our grantmaking members are thinking so stay tuned!

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