The Grants Collective Makes Presentation to National Audience at the 2017 Grant Professionals Association Conference in San Diego, CA

“Increasing Capacity and Impact in an Environment of Scarcity (One Year Later)” was a presentation made by Tara Gohr and Erin Hielkema, who share leadership of The Grants Collective.

Albuquerque, and all of New Mexico, is known for its creativity, resourcefulness, and compassion, and those traits are especially evident in its nonprofit sector. The Grants Collective was selected for a second year in a row to present on the innovations and strategic place-based efforts it is using to draw more national and federal funding into the state. The conference is the premier event for professionals whose work includes grant seeking and attracts about 700 people every year, who take home their learnings and resources to every state in the country.

The Grants Collective’s presentation provided an overview of the organization’s first year of program implementation, along with reflections on what is working and lessons learned as well as plans for the future. Attendees called the work “very inspiring” and complimented presenters’ ability to “think big.”

Among the highlights were an overview of the philanthropic divide and how states that face the divide are affected by it; the design and implementation of two programs, the Talent Academy for nonprofit professionals and a Cooperative Network of nonprofit organizations; and a conversation with attendees on how and why different strategies were selected. The philanthropic divide refers to the difference in foundation assets between the 10 states with the highest foundation assets and the ten states with the least. New Mexico has been in the bottom 10 states since at least 2005 when the Big Sky Institute coined the term philanthropic divide. Common characteristics of divide states include a lack of grant making scale and capacity to resource the local nonprofit sector, a lack of regional or national foundations and Fortune 500 companies, and a lack of advocacy and communication for the nonprofit sector.

To address this, the two programs that were implemented over the past year are designed to increase the impact and capacity of the nonprofit community in New Mexico. The Talent Academy is a six-month professional development fellowship for grant professionals. Fellows spend six months in cohort-style project-based learning. Professional seminars – often with well-respected guest speakers – are presented weekly and fellows attend open lab times so they can apply what they are learning immediately to grant seeking efforts that benefit their organizations. The first cohort of fellows have raised more than $850,000 through 44 grants since their fellowship ended in March 2017, which represents a 64% award rate for grants submitted. More than half of those funds are from outside the state of New Mexico. It also sparked collaborations and new connections among the fellows, most of whom had never met prior and whose organizations did not have a relationship.

The Cooperative Network is an online and in-person community that connects nonprofit professionals around grant seeking. The online platform is organized into three sections – Find Funding, Connect, and Learn. Find Funding provides information on grant opportunities including those that are deadline-driven, open call grants, and forecasted grants. All grants on the platform are screened for eligibility by New Mexico-based organizations, cutting through much of the static provided by other grant databases and calendars. In-person events include brownbag how-to sessions, trainings by national presenters, “Thirsty Thursday” networking, reading circles, and more. The Cooperative Network currently has about 60 members since launching in January 2017 with a membership drive starting in 2018.

Presenters shared what is working – namely, the Talent Academy doubled in size from its first to second cohort and received significant grant awards, local stakeholders including grant makers who have rallied to support the program by being guest speakers on funders panels and connecting their grantees to the capacity building work, and framing the work as economic development because it attracts external money to the state. This was compelling for the City of Albuquerque Economic Development Action Council, which provided a contract to fund the start-up of the programming. In terms of lessons learned, presenters shared that in hindsight, they would make a few changes: Both the reading circle and Thirsty Thursdays have had low attendance – perhaps they will be combined, like a book club – and the development and implementation of two programs simultaneously proved to be exhausting. The first year of implementation also illuminated structural inequities seen by the sector. For instance, mid-tier nonprofit professionals had a difficult time garnering professional development funds by their employers. More broadly, some in the nonprofit sector were under the impression that the programs should be provided free of charge since it operates out of a nonprofit organization.

This was the second presentation made by The Grants Collective, in concert with its for-profit partner The Grant Plant, at the Grant Professionals Association. In 2016, they presented on the development of the programming that was just launching at the time. The Grants Collective was the only place-based strategy to present at the conference, highlighting the innovative work coming out of New Mexico.

Jennifer Jackson, Erin Hielkema, Tara Gohr, and Cecily Peterson attend #GPAConf17

About The Grants Collective. The Grants Collective is helping New Mexico nonprofit organizations raise their ability and capacity to compete for major national and federal grants. Learn more at Board of Directors: Robin Brule, T.J. Cook, Tina Garcia-Shams, Eric Griego, Erin Hagenow, Debi Randall, Anna Sanchez, and Justin Zoladz.