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A Toast to NCG’s Docket Tales

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In our docket driven philanthropic world, it’s a rare occasion for grantmakers to have the space to talk about grantmaking challenges that “keep them up at night.” Imagine how cathartic it must feel to admit that a grant simply didn’t work out and to move on.

On December 2, NCG hosted its 2nd Annual Docket Tales for family foundation members in order to provide a safe space for candid conversation about issues they grappled with 2011. In case you missed this intimate gathering of friends and colleagues, we wanted to give you highlights from the program, which turned out to be another fantastic gathering of open and honest conversation about the perils of grantmaking!

The audience was primarily seasoned grantmakers, yet the stories and conversations manage to resurface issues of practice that members are dealing with: docket structure, how to communicate to grantees about what led to the “no,” organizing effective trustee site visits. This reinforced the value of providing opportunities for grantmakers of all experience levels to have a place for candid conversations about both practical and strategic matters.

There was substantive discussion about the relationship between trustees and staff: how to make sure staff, who are immersed in the work full-time, do not get too far ahead of Board members’ timetable for change; how to find the balance between a strong Executive Director and a strong Board; how to develop Board members’ programmatic knowledge and how to create a culture that inspires involvement of the Next Gen.

And, there was some discussion about how a funder approaches moving into a new geographic area: awareness of raised expectations about new money in town; how to introduce the foundation in the community and how to approach getting smart about the community; importance of making adjustments (e.g., grant size, more informal application process) when in a new community.

If you missed this year’s program, I encourage you to attend next year’s program, which is usually hosted in the first week of December. Special thanks to the Family Philanthropy Exchange’s new Co-chair, Lin Ishihara Senior Program Officer with the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, who did an excellent job of facilitating an engaging discussion that left its participants wanting more.

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