Equipping Lean Funders: Key Takeaways From the 2024 Pacific Northwest Regional Events - Exponent Philanthropy
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Equipping Lean Funders: Key Takeaways From the 2024 Pacific Northwest Regional Events

Exponent Philanthropy members are making a significant impact, serving diverse communities locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. Recently, I had an exciting few days meeting with over 30 members, partners, and supporters in the states of Oregon and Washington. I began my journey in Portland where participants expressed excitement and appreciation for the opportunity to connect and learn in person. The two-hour event fostered community among attendees and sharing promising practices within lean philanthropy.  As a guest shared, the funder community moves as the speed of trust and having this time to get to know one another around the table accelerates that dynamic.

During our session, Angela Hult, President of the Kuni Foundation and Exponent Philanthropy Board Member, initiated discussions by inviting the 20+ funders to share what excites them about their grantmaking work and to discuss the challenges they are encountering.

Promising Practices in Philanthropy: Perspectives Shared

Funders are:

  • Using simplified grant applications and reporting, encouraging others to do the same.
  • Celebrating major anniversaries with deeper investments and new funding methods.
  • Launching new multi-year, larger grants to build grantee capacity for long-term success.
  • Starting an oral reporting process to reduce grantee burden and improve connections.
  • Recognizing the need for grants of all sizes to support grassroots and early-stage organizations.
  • Expanding due to asset growth, requiring more staff but still focusing on lean operations and new grantmaking areas.
  • Addressing environmental challenges with new approaches and partnerships.
  • Sharing innovative and long-standing nonprofit partners who are improving the community and how the funders should adapt to support the organizations better.
  • Undergoing leadership transitions, implementing succession planning, and onboarding new board and staff members.

Lean Funder Challenges: Addressing Needs Across Communities

Funders are:

  • Juggling roles with volunteers and part-time staff.
  • Managing grantee partner burnout, with many key people leaving their organizations after the pandemic, and exploring how to better support grantee partners’ health and wellness.
  • Recruiting and onboarding new board members during generational leadership transitions in leanly staffed organizations.
  • Ensuring philanthropy strengthens communities and facilitates difficult conversations in times of conflict.
  • Building bridges between rural and urban communities to ensure equal opportunity for all.
  • Addressing local concerns of affordable housing and access to opportunities, as post-pandemic population growth prices out long-time community members.
  • Advocating for funding for nonprofits facing financial difficulties due to loss of government funds, staff transitions, increased service demand, and reduced private giving post-pandemic.
  • Balancing immediate community needs with longer-term societal challenges.

Special thanks to Angela Hult, who serves as both an Exponent Philanthropy Board Member and President of the Kuni Foundation, and Robyn Shuey, Director of Grants and Programs at the Kuni Foundation, for their efforts in organizing and cohosting this Regional Gathering!

Washington State Luncheon: Deep Dives into Philanthropic Issues

After an insightful visit in Oregon, my journey continued with a meaningful luncheon gathering in Washington State. Here, a select group of eight members convened to delve into pressing philanthropic issues and share invaluable perspectives:

  • Exploring the complexities of foundation sunsetting and how lean foundations can navigate this transition effectively with the right leadership and partnerships.
  • Discussing the imperative for funders to adjust grantmaking strategies to prioritize the mental health and well-being of nonprofit staff, particularly leadership roles heavily impacted since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Recognizing members’ practice of Catalytic Leadership in Philanthropy, driving impactful change within their communities.
  • Emphasizing the ongoing need to advance equity by adapting approaches to meet the evolving needs of diverse communities.
  • Addressing the impact of inflation on grantees and increasing grant awards to ensure nonprofit partners can meet this challenge over time.
  • Celebrating the collaborative spirit of Washington State’s lean funder community, fostering partnerships that endure beyond challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Highlighting the critical role of local philanthropy organizations, such as Philanthropy Northwest, in managing significant partnerships like the $50 million federal grant serving communities across the region.
  • Affirming the value of Exponent Philanthropy’s research, reports, and resources as essential tools for keeping boards and organizations informed and innovative.

These discussions underscored the commitment and vision of our members, reinforcing the importance of collaboration and strategic adaptation in shaping impactful philanthropy.

Looking Ahead: Future Plans and Regional Gatherings

It has been wonderful traveling around the Pacific Northwest and being in community with our members. It’s even better learning and hearing about  how they collaborate with nonprofit partners to help rural, suburban, and urban communities thrive across the region.

Our members and lean funders are passionate, committed, and driven to support the people, purposes, and places in their communities. This community-connected approach is one of the many reasons I joined Exponent Philanthropy. I am honored to work with all of you.

As we head into summer, our regional gatherings will pause, but we will resume in late summer and early fall with events in Appalachia and the Mid-Atlantic. I look forward to seeing many of you at our 2024 Annual Conference in Austin, TX, from November 14-16.

May your philanthropy have an outsized impact,


Paul D. Daugherty

Chief Executive Officer

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