Ret Boney is the executive director for the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers. She assumed the role in May 2013 and has served as a connector, not only to foundation staff across the state, but also by introducing foundation staff to nonprofit professionals. We chatted during the 2015 Foundation Fair, which was held in Cherokee, North Carolina.
How does the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers (NCNG) connect funding agencies across North Carolina?
The best way to create connections is through in-person, face-to-face interactions. That’s a challenge for us in some ways because we are a statewide organization, with funders spread out from the mountains to the coast. At the same time, people are eager for connections, and therefore willing to make the effort to get together in person. And once people get to know each other, making an authentic connection is so much easier, and in some ways inevitable. It allows people to trust each other and, once there is the trust, there is an interest and willingness to work together. And then at that point, it becomes self-reinforcing.
Using the annual NCNG Foundation Fair as an example, the funders meet for dinner the night before. To me, that is almost as important as the fair itself because it gives people a chance to get to know each other. I think the interactions the day of fair between funders are more meaningful because of the connections they made the night before. And I feel confident that there will be interactions between these folks after the Foundation Fair. People will be more likely to contact each other about work issues because there is trust and a relationship in place.
I’m glad you brought up the Foundation Fair — what do you hope to get from the Foundation Fair by putting the nonprofits and the foundation representatives together?
There are a few things. First, nonprofits in the far-western and far-eastern parts of the state do not have the kind of organic opportunity to get to know funders that nonprofits in urban areas have. Bringing funders out here says something – that we want to know you and your community. We can make that easy for both sides by bringing funders out here and putting them together with community members in one place. That connection is valuable.
Second, there is an inherent power imbalance in the world of philanthropy. I haven’t quite figured out how to crack it but I think it goes back to connections and trust. If people can know each other as people, it takes away some of that mystery, some of that power imbalance. I want nonprofits to know that funders are real people who want to get to know them and have an interest in them. I want them to know that they can talk to you. Hopefully, after the fair, they can pick up the phone and make a call to a funder if they have a question.
It is also important for statewide funders, in particular, to come out to visit the far western part of the state to learn about this area, which is so different from the Triangle, the Triad, and Charlotte. Understanding who the people are, what their needs are, what the unique aspects of the community are out here is important. It informs grantmaking by helping funders get to know the people behind the work, all of whom are here to help the people and places of North Carolina. Building connections on both sides of the funding equation can only improve that equation.
And while there are times when a nonprofit’s mission doesn’t match a foundation’s funding strategy, that’s important to know. Not only will that save a nonprofit from applying for a great with little chance of success, often funders are able to suggest other foundations that might be a better fit.
After two and half years with NCNG, what has been the most rewarding experience?
I love hearing that relationships and connections have been sparked through NCNG. And when those connections carry on outside the infrastructure of NCNG – through collaboration, information sharing or simply comparing experiences over a beer – I know our work will have a lasting impact.
Interview conducted on 23 September 2015