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Field Notes

The Philanthropy Connection

November 17, 2014

Root Cause’s Social Innovation Forum (SIF) was founded with a vision to create a more formidable and sustainable nonprofit sector in Greater Boston. This very successful model, launched eleven years ago, has fostered positive social collaboration, partnership and community engagement at high levels. Through this work, SIF partners with individuals, local business leaders, and community leaders all supporting and improving the performance of nonprofits that are on the ground tackling critical social issues affecting our community. One of our newer partners in this sector, The Philanthropy Connection, has evolved to do some similar work. We were thrilled when the Philanthropy Connection selected Adoption & Foster Care Mentoring (AFC Mentoring), a 2014 Social Innovator, to join their very first cohort of grantees. Marla Felcher, Founder of the The Philanthropy Connection, shares some thoughts about our overlap, ways of partnering, and how we all fit into the philanthropic community in Greater Boston.

In the fall of 2012, I co-founded The Philanthropy Connection (TPC), a collective giving organization. The idea was simple: Convince 100 women each to put $1,000 into a pool, then together decide which organizations would be awarded a total of $100,000 in grants. It took only seven weeks to attract 100 members; we ended the year with 130, which meant we had $130,000 to give as grants. This year, 230 members strong, we’ll have $230,000 to give away in June.

At TPC, we believe that awarding grants is just a start; there’s more to philanthropy than writing a check. Which is why we were not surprised, and could not have been more pleased, when Adoption & Foster Care Mentoring (AFC Mentoring), a Root Cause 2014 Social Innovator, became one of TPC’s inaugural grantees.

The process by which we select our grantees differs significantly from Root Cause’s selection process, yet, in the case of AFC Mentoring, the outcome was the same. We use a “funnel” approach, which starts with requesting a Letter of Intent and a brief application that provides a snapshot of who the organization serves, how, and why. A team of TPC members (anyone who has donated $1,000 into our grant pool, and is interested in doing this work) is trained on how to evaluate and score grant proposals. The outcome of this process is a list of organizations the evaluators promote to the next stage, a Full Application (which includes detailed financial, organizational, and program information). After evaluating the Full Proposals, a subset of organizations advance to the Site Visit stage. Organizations making it through this stage appear on our Final Ballot. At this point, every TPC member, whether or not she has participated in the proposal review process thus far, has a chance to vote for the organizations we ultimately fund. Last year, eight organizations appeared on the Final Ballot, and five each received a $26,000 grant, among them, AFC Mentoring.

What were the odds of AFC Mentoring receiving one of our grants? We started with close to 100 Letters of Intent, from which 26 organizations were invited to submit a Full Proposal, 10 were selected for a Site Visit, and 8 appeared on the Final Ballot. Dozens of our members discussed, debated, and evaluated these organizations, and all 130 members voted. It’s impossible to say what it was, exactly, that struck so many of our members about AFC Mentoring. However, the summary report written by our site visitors provides a clue:

“The word consistency stands out in AFC’s work: consistent values, consistent mentor/mentee relationships, consistent training of staff, mentors, and mentees, and consistent evaluation systems. We were consistently impressed throughout our visit.”

Similar to Root Cause, we believe in using our networks to help our grantees attract new supporters. Last spring, AFC’s executive director, Colby Swettberg, spoke to small groups of women we were recruiting as members. Anyone who’s heard Colby speak about foster children and the foster care system will understand why she was among our most effective speakers – almost everyone who met her at these gatherings joined TPC. If this was the sort of leader we were supporting, they wanted in!

Last December, we held a TPC “Engagement Event,” an opportunity for all of our members to connect with and hear from our Grantees. There, Colby and her staff set up an AFC Mentoring information booth, talked with our members one-on-one, and educated an audience of over 100 women about the foster care system and AFC’s work. The word that comes to mind when describing the audience during Colby’s remarks was “smitten.” After that evening, one of our members called Colby’s development director and requested a meeting. Another one of our members is in the initial stage of talking with Colby about joining her board. These connections are at the heart of what we do.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity, for the first time, to have an in-depth conversation with Colby about AFC’s future. Sitting in Colby’s office, listening to her describe her vision and goals, I thought: “This is why I was inspired to create The Philanthropy Connection.” From the start, my vision was to identify talented local leaders who were serving an under-served population, and introduce them to TPC members eager to support their work. I am thrilled that AFC applied for a TPC grant, and grateful that our members, collectively, and now, individually, have voted, whole-heartedly, to support their work.

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