Interview: David Biemesderfer, United Philanthropy Forum

The United Philanthropy Forum (UPF) has brought together many of the US’s infrastructure bodies in a meta-network. Does its CEO, David Biemesderfer, see a European parallel in European philanthropy body, DAFNE? He sat down with Charles Keidan at Dafne’s PEXforum2020 in Madrid to discuss the key role of philanthropy infrastructure and the development of the United Philanthropy Forum.

United Philanthropy Forum was previously known as the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers until 2017. What led to that change?

The Forum has been around since 1998, and was originally a network for the 33 US regional philanthropy associations to help them learn and share with each other, take collective action and gain efficiencies through collaboration. We had a lot of success in terms building the capacity in areas like public policy and technology, but in 2015, when the previous CEO left, the Forum board decided to think about why we existed. Since we were founded, there have been a lot of changes in philanthropy and a lot more infrastructure groups have been formed and we wanted to understand how we could make the greatest impact, so we interviewed a lot of people, our members, our funders, and our national partners, because apart from the regional associations, there are 50 or so national philanthropy associations based on issues like identity of the target audience and interest area.

When we talked to the national associations, we heard two things. One was that the associations of what we now call national philanthropy serving organisations, the PSOs, did not have a network like the Forum to support their work, and wanted one. They felt they were often on their own to figure out how do their work, who they should connect with and who their colleagues are, because it's a very specific thing to run a philanthropy association. The second thing was that the infrastructure was not working together as well as it should, and the issues that funders were addressing weren't getting better, in some cases getting worse, and people realised that we could only make a difference if we work together.

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