Bobby Thalhimer, Senior Consultant at The Monument Group, recently wrote a piece on the Virginia Funders Network for the Giving USA blog. In this piece, titled “Developing a Shared Focus Donor Strategy to Overcome Political and Socioeconomic Divides”, Thalhimer wrote about how Virginia Funders Network (VFN) grew to the 100-member network that it is now, exceeding our member target by 100% and revenue target by 30% in 9 months. Below is a portion of his piece:
“At the start, we faced many hurdles. Two prior efforts to build statewide philanthropic networks in Virginia failed in their infancy. Virginia seemed hopelessly divided between its geographically broad red rural counties and its more powerful and condensed blue urban corridor. For the most part, the leaders in these two regions don’t trust one another, and there are few funders that make grants in both. So, how do you go about building a statewide network with these facts?
Thinking scientifically, we divided the task into four phases. First, we individually interviewed each of the 15 founding Advisory Board members, which represent each area of Virginia and include both foundation and corporate funders. From their ideas, we carefully crafted a draft case statement for the Virginia Funders Network, which focused on the areas of shared interest and avoided statements that would pose hurdles. For instance, you can’t lead with collaborative statewide funding opportunities, when almost all funders have regional restrictions.
Step two was to test this draft—our hypothesis—with large and small funders across Virginia, who we felt would be thought leaders if they were to join. We made many revisions to the draft as a result of these interviews. We also developed a funding model with a low bar, recognizing that we had a lot of skepticism to overcome—$1,000 to join and higher giving levels fully optional.
Step three was to get the Advisory Board to finalize the case statement and to make lead gifts before we sought broader membership. The board came through with a preponderance of commitments greater than $1,000, with some at $2,500, $5,000 and $10,000, and with four at $25,000. With this strong leadership in hand, we solicited each of our prior interviewees and, with one exception, they all joined. About 50% joined at levels higher than $1,000. We think this exceptional response occurred because everyone saw some aspect of their interview ideas expressed in the case statement. Then, having already met our membership and revenue targets and with a broad geographical membership in hand, we used referrals from the early adopters to sell the idea broadly…
Step four was to provide the expected value. With broad membership in hand, we recruited our CEO, Katy Moore, who had worked with the Washington Regional Area Grantmakers for a decade and who had tested one of the earlier efforts to start a statewide network. We delivered early on promised value with strong Zoom sessions on Virginia General Assembly legislation that affected Virginia philanthropy. We were off and running!”