If it isn’t about money, then what is it about?


Amy McGoldrick


Outside of Westminster and London and England entirely, ECFI finds its first conference nestled in the historic Cardiff City Hall, Wales, to a select 100 attendees. ‘Twenty two countries and eighteen languages are here,’ was a proudly-repeated phrase from the convenors. ‘Any native English speakers must speak slowly and clearly so that everyone can understand you.’

The UK’s current isolating philanthropic and political identities were stretching, so as to more strongly place itself as European.  Yet the political backgrounds of the other delegates’ countries were precisely what they were drawing upon; the former or current national ideologies that were forcing community foundations to be creative, to be subversive, to be a movement.

Ansis Berzins of the Valmeira Region Community Foundation, Latvia, spoke of the difficulties within a country which itself has only had established democracy for 25 years. ‘Trust is a large problem in Latvia; between institutions, between people – on all levels,’ Ansis said. The largest gift they have received is 6,000 euro. Yet in focusing on visibility and gaining trust, they are also encouraging their communities to move beyond the labels of ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’.

‘Trust’ was a word so often spoken at ECFI. If the delegates were not in attendance to talk wholly money – although, of course, that’s an important aspect to any grantmaking organisation – then the tangible desire in City Hall was to talk about what they were here for. Trust, networks, an avenue to be inspired about digitisation and creativity.

These are creative and adaptive strengths based upon much more than just money. Often I heard the phrase ‘move beyond conversations about endowments’ –  yet it was not the continental European foundations – Eastern European, in particular – who were fixated upon endowments.

Indeed, they were the ones strongly searching for the conversations on how to expand, what metrics they could replicate, to impart what they had learned and to learn from others.

Within the first day’s main panel discussion – ‘Community philanthropy? Who calls the shots?’ chaired by Alliance’s guest-editor of #ShiftThePower and GFCF‘s Jenny Hodgson- Gergana Kutseva of the Bulgarian Fund for Women spoke of similar issues. With no developed community philanthropy, ‘only 10% of Bulgarians actually give – and only for people in desperate need, or when there is a natural disaster’.

With no state funding for NGOs, Gergana’s organisation is incredibly vocal, and the only indigenous donor in Bulgaria to raise funds and give grants to advance women’s and girls’ rights.

‘We are not in a neutral terrain of truth,’ stated Jenny Hodgson. With an opportunity for civil society to occupy the space where politicians have not been for the last few years, the generation of this formal initiative could very well herald a new coming together.

Community philanthropy is inspiring. In talking about the sustainability of development, in developing durable change – it isn’t just changing the face of philanthropy, it is changing the face of development itself.

It’s impossible to reset the rules, so instead it is important to subvert them, to find new networks outside of intermediaries and re-establish (or even just establish) connections between grantmakers and their recipients.

There is naturally occurring wealth in every community – wealth which is not just money, but capacity, skills, people themselves. In the same way, the community foundations at ECFI were seeking to draw from the human capital in the room in order to grow.

Political narratives were omnipresent, whether stated as such or not. These community foundation practitioners were clearly tireless in their desire to change the narrative to donors, to convince them of a culture of giving, to give them a narrative outside of grant cycles and timeframes, but one of independence, of flexibility and, once again, trust.

Continental Europe’s mobilised and active creativity suggests a real and galvanised movement. The question is whether the UK is fully along for the ride.

Amy McGoldrick is Alliance’s Marketing and Advertising Officer.

Tagged in: ECFI 2017

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