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Funder/Nonprofit Happy Hour: Connecting the PEOPLE behind the roles

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


By Philanthropy Network's Member Engagement Committee

Somehow, despite the fact that the word philanthropy derives from the Greek meaning “love for humankind,” the funder/nonprofit dynamic can suffer from a shortage of both love and humanity. 

Traditional networking events that bring grantors and grantees together can feel stressful and canned, with both funders and nonprofits trying subtly to learn about each other’s work and priorities without making anyone uncomfortable or making any promises.  We are two sides of the same coin, symbiotic in mutual reliance (funders need nonprofits to carry out the work that realizes our missions, and nonprofits need the funding we can provide in order to do that work), yet the relationship between grantors and grantees can feel awkward, artificial and imbalanced.

Philanthropy Network’s Member Engagement Committee, which deeply embraces Philanthropy Network’s commitment to equity, wanted to change this dynamic for the better, and wanted to break down some of the barriers that separate funders and nonprofit leaders by bringing them together in fellowship.

We found inspiration in Vu Le, wise and hilarious guru of the blog Nonprofit AF.  Vu spoke at Philanthropy Network’s 2016 annual conference, and he swears by the “happy hour” format as a great way for nonprofit leaders to unwind and connect on a human level.

With a vague idea, the Member Engagement committee knew we needed to partner to make this idea a reality. Riffing on the Vu Le concept to include both funders AND nonprofits, Philanthropy Network Member Engagement Committee members Robyn Herman, Rostair Foundation and Shanell Ransom, Samuel S. Fels Fund, along with Shira Hodges from Philanthropy Network, sought partners to bring this event to fruition.  Soon, this became a collaborative effort among Philanthropy Network, Impact100 Philadelphia, Philadelphia Chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and Philadelphia Foundation, and the invitation proactively emphasized inclusiveness, especially encouraging participation from people of color.

And the concept was a hit, because almost 200 people signed up!

The event was held in University City on August 8, 2019, and registration consisted of 60 percent nonprofit and 40 percent funders. However, no one who attended was supposed to talk about work—they weren’t attending as foundation people, or nonprofit people—but as people, just people, getting to know one another over a drink on a summer evening. The special twist to this Funder/Nonprofit Happy Hour was that all attendees were supposed to talk about themselves, not their organizations.  Their hobbies, not their mission statements.  Their personalities, not their deliverable outcomes.

With a goal of forging authentic connections based on equity, the nametags issued only listed people’s first names, NO organizational name or position title. To help avoid the backslide into conversation-starters centered around professional topics, attendees were encouraged to use fun “icebreaker-bingo” cards to guide their personal chit-chat, seeking information about factoids such as whether someone liked to cook, had more than two pets, or had ever jumped out of a plane.  People flitted around the bar aiming to complete their bingo cards, and in the meantime, folks shared giggles over some of the sillier answers and bonded over shared interests.  For those who completed their bingo cards first, there were equity-focused prizes (copies of the books Decolonizing Wealth and How We Fight White Supremacy & White Fragility).

The result: People got to know each other on a human level, and the hope is that these personal connections among peers, not marked as grantors or grantees, will lead to healthier and more honest, productive relationships that strengthen our sector and change the funder/nonprofit dynamic for the better.  More happy hours will follow—we hope to see you there!