I had the pleasure of attending the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) 2024 National Conference last week and wrote about some highlights from Day One here. Below are some highlights from the rest of the Conference.

Highlights from the Conference

Asset Framing: Why Your Peers Are Still Achieving Historic Wins for Equity

Trabian Shorters delivered the enlightening plenary presentation.

  • There is a fundamental cognitive and sociological reason why defining communities by their challenges and crises makes social equity virtually impossible to achieve
  • Our brains have two systems at work:
    • Conscious mind – considers facts, it’s the backup system that is used only when needed but thinks it’s the primary system – 5%
    • Intuitive mind – forms mental narratives based on patterns, it’s the primary system that is always on and wors 1000 times faster than the conscious mind – 95% (this system disregards facts that don’t fit its narratives)
  • Example of how these systems work – fill in the blank, knowing that all three words in each set are completely unrelated
    • D_RTY, CL_AN, SO_P
  • We intuit the missing letter in SO_P based on the context in which we find it
  • Similarly, when we define persons and groups by their challenges, it is stigmatizing and leads to other negative associations – if we see threats, we avoid-control-kill – this reduces empathy and increases anxiety
  • Liberals associate “equity” with “inclusion;” conservatives associate “equity” with “fairness”
  • Fixers vs. Builders (our brains need both, but funders and other nonprofits emphasize the fixer mode)
    • Fixers are pain-oriented, start with problems, prime fear, solve problems, and save people
    • Builders are gain-oriented, start with aspirations, prime respect, fulfill aspirations, and invest in people
  • There is an alternative paradigm called Asset-Framing used by some leading foundations and social impact firms to unite groups across party lines, raise billions for equitable causes, and to overturn persistent, unjust public policies
  • Asset-Framing – primes respect over fear and “states their best before the rest”
    • It’s not a “let’s be nicer” approach; it’s a “let’s see more of the whole” approach
    • You don’t have to put people down to pick them up
    • 4 Steps:
      1. What do you love and admire of the group?
      2. What are their aspirations?
      3. What is systemically obstructing them from reaching their aspirations?
      4. What can your organization do to remove those obstructions?

The Future of Philanthropy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) raises not only technological issues; it raises social issues – who does AI work for?
  • Working definition of AI – the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think and learn like humans
  • Goal of AI – to create systems that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence
  • Provides of AI hold invisible power, hidden from public view and accountability – see The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information (Pasquale)
  • Issue: How are bias and systemic inequities expressed in AI?
  • Issue: How do we prevent automating historic biases in our culture?
  • AI and the future of nonprofits
    • Data-informed strategy
    • AI-based projects
    • Future workforce
  • Issue: Will you define your AI future or will AI define your future?
  • Addition Resource from presenter S. Craig Watkins: How AI can Combat Systemic Racism
  • Grantee: California Black Power Network – born in crises to address crises-based organizing; coalition of 41 organizations constantly fighting with need to pull them back to collectively strategize, plan, convene, co-learn, and share; even if no reparations legislation results, want to leave behind narrative of (1) the need for repair and restoration due to systemic harms and (2) leadership with equity
  • Grantee: PICO California – the largest faith-based community organizing network in the state whose mission is to catalyze faith-based and spiritually-centered people power in California to create systemic change for the most vulnerable so that all Californians thrive (check out the organization’s learning center here)

Center of Gravity: Engaging Funders and Organizers In the Evolution of Civic Engagement and Power Building

Powerful Innovations for Voter Organizing and Transformation (PIVOT) is a collaborative effort aimed at resourcing power-building at scale to engage and mobilize communities of color. In its first round of grantmaking from PIVOT’s Power Building Pooled Fund, housed at the California Community Foundation, more than $7 million in multi-year grants were made to 14 organizations, coalitions and networks reaching more than 70 organizations around the state.

  • Keys: relationship-building, power-building infrastructures, long-term funding (not year-to-year), addressing power imbalances, growing the pie
  • Goal: to shift grantmaking power to the field (both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) resources)
  • Movement – steady, loving confrontations with the goal of redistributing power and opportunity
  • Importance of intermediaries
  • Tip for funders with in-house general counsel (GC) – involve the GC in the process early so they can understand the why behind the goals

Let’s talk nonprofit talent investment!

This was a morning networking roundtable hosted by Rusty Stahl of Fund the People and Phuong Quach of NPAG.

  • Many employees of nonprofits are leaving their jobs and many are leaving the nonprofit sector
  • Many nonprofits are having trouble filling vacancies
  • Compensation is one issue but there are many others, including work hours and conditions, DEI practices, professional development, management styles
  • Nonprofits can choose to address these issues; funders can choose to fund talent investment
  • Fund the People Toolkit is a free, comprehensive resource to help you maximize investment in the nonprofit workforce

Additional Observations

The GEO Conference is generally open to persons working for grantmaking organizations and philanthropy-supporting infrastructure groups. I was fortunate to obtain one of the 25 spaces available to consultants. The Conference trended younger and more racially diverse than any I have recently attended, which was great to see.

As is the case with most good conferences, the learnings from presenters, like those captured in my blog posts, capture only part of the benefits of attending. It was great to meet with friends and colleagues, meet new acquaintances, and share thoughts. There were a number of community-building and participatory events and times to meet other attendees privately. I know many of us had to squeeze in our regular work while attending, but I personally was energized by the GEO Conference and stayed highly productive until I got back home and crashed.

That didn’t stop me from thinking of the one thing I thought might really add to the value of grantmaker conferences. One thing that would likely not be very popular and is often dismissed as an obstacle to effective and equitable grantmaking. Nevertheless, that one thing is critically important and working to shape it requires a strong understanding. Not surprisingly (to regular readers of this blog), that one thing is nonprofit law. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on this topic specifically targeted at grantmakers.