Questions & Answers about
Grantmaker Networks And echo communications' services

1. What are affinity groups and regional donor alliances?

They are collections of donors who care about similar issues and geographic spaces. These donors pay annual dues to network "hubs" - non-profit organizations with their own staff, boards and budgets - which organize on member donors' behalves far-reaching networking activities as well as educational initiatives around issues of common concern.

2. When were they first formed?

The Council on Foundations indicates that the first affinity group formed in the early 1980s.

According to The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, the earliest regional grantmakers' association formed in 1938, in the state of Michigan - and the most recent, a year ago, in Delaware.

3. Who runs these organizations?

Leaders who have a good deal of experience in philanthropy and in the issues.

For example, Donors Forum, the regional grantmaker alliance of Illinois, is run by Valerie Lies, who worked for many years as Vice President of the Public Education Fund and also previously for Otto Bremer Foundation.

Many issue-based affinity group leaders, such as Katherine Magraw of Peace and Security Funders Group also have significant policy background in the issues being discussed by donors within these forums. Magraw has been Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for International Policy and Foreign Policy Specialist for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency dedicated to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

4. What kinds of staff functions do these groups have?

The majority of donor networks have executive directors, deputy directors, communications managers, program staff, coordinators dedicated to member relations. Some have staff dedicated to operations and finance, government relations, research, online services, and meeting planning.

5. What kinds of activities and resources do they offer for their member donors?

There is a great deal of variety. Many offer in-person educational seminars frequently done over lunch, as well as an annual conference to review the state of philanthropy in their dedicated areas. Some also offer telebriefings, expert policy series and site visits to explore issues in depth. Others make available webinars and newsletters, blogs and online bulletins - to inform and engage member donors.

In some cases, this information is offered only behind a private firewall dedicated exclusively to registered, dues-paying donors. In others, the information is publicly visible to all.

6. How are they funded?

Member donors typically donate to cover the costs of network operations.

7. Can my organization become a featured speaker within a donor community that cares about our issues?

Yes. If you are now receiving or have recently received major support from at least one funder for your leadership work, then it is quite likely that they will want to invest in you in different ways, even beyond the grant announcement. It is also true that their investment in you travels farthest when you do well and the impact of their work with you attracts the visibility of others.

You just have to know the questions to ask your donor(s), the lay of the land your work could fit into within donor communities, and you must frame your request in a way your donor may respond to. echo communications can help.

8. I don't know anything about the politics of this - what if I put my foot in my mouth to a funder when I ask about participating with them in donor networks? Is it appropriate to ask funders for these sorts of things?

Of course. Your funders have made an investment in you, and they recognize that it is in their best interest for you to succeed. To succeed, your ideas and organization need visibility within the donor community. When they - or you - are embraced by other donors there, the foundation's investment in you is leveraged, your work goes farther and there's greater potential for communities served on the ground.

There's no guarantee any one funder you ask about this will say yes. They may have other grantees they have decided to promote; they may not have internal staff capability to help in this way. But it is certainly worth asking and seeing where the conversation leads.

9. What if my foundation and corporate sponsors are not connected to the affinity groups and regional donor alliances that serve my organization's and issue's interests well?

They may be willing to join... and they may know other donors who are.

The foundation world is a very tight-knit community. Your funders may well be glad to help connect you to other funders in this way if they sense your presentation on the issues could have an impact there, and happy that you asked.

10. What clients have you already worked with?

echo communications' early work in this arena have included Service Employees International Union (SEIU), New Organizing Institute, The Writer's Center (Bethesda, Maryland), and United Nations Association of the National Capital Area.

11. Has your work been informed by the thoughts and talents of leadership in philanthropy and social change?

Yes! We have spent much of the past year dedicated to interviewing to leaders at affinity groups, regional donor networks, foundations and non-profits in order to make Hidden Opportunities work for all audiences. We have received overwhelming support and wonderful feedback. You can view a list of leaderships who have helped shape the project in this way here.

Mimi Ghez, president, echo communications

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