If You Want to Give, First Listen - Women's Foundation California
Photo by Theory, David Wheeler

by Kathryn Green, member of the Foundation’s Women of Silicon Valley donor circle

How can donors and grant partners have a dialogue as equals? What can donors learn from grant partners that will help us be better philanthropists and partners? This was something that I wanted to find out when the Women of Silicon Valley donor circle hosted a breakfast with our grant partners.

I could hear the buzz of conversation coming from the Los Altos room of the Stanford Park Hotel as I walked down the hall. Walking into the room, there was a familiarity of friends gathering for breakfast, not strangers.

The warm-up exercise was “to choose an image (or more than one) from among the cards on the table that speaks to you and represents how you aspire to be in the world.” I was stunned by the depth, breadth and openness of the responses. I heard and saw sides to women I’ve known for years and had no idea were there. I think it was the best opening to any meeting we’ve ever had.

We decided to host this breakfast to create the opportunity for our grant partners—local organizations working on college access for low-income young women—to get to know each other and us—members of the donor circle—better. We asked them to speak about their greatest achievements in the past year. I could hear their pride as one spoke about how successful their first fundraising event was. Another spoke about providing computers and online access to Latino families who have never had that opportunity before. I felt proud that we had selected such smart leaders and organizations.

The ensuing conversation ranged from how to have successful events to determining evaluation measures of personal transformation. There was great interest in coming together again to share challenges and ideas.

I walked away learning two things: (1) you never really know what will happen when you get women around a table talking; you just know it will be productive and supportive. (2) If there’s a key ingredient to being a better philanthropist, it’s listening. Engaging in ongoing conversations with grant partners to understand their challenges and how to best support their solutions is often the greatest gift a philanthropist can give. It’s one I plan to keep giving.

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