Last week, we had the inspiring opportunity to gather our grantees in Philadelphia at The Barnes Foundation. What was really unprecedented was that the grantees were from all of our portfolios. It was an opportunity to share, learn and connect beyond those boundaries. I wish I could say it was all my idea, but our grantees came up with this. They told me last fall that they would like more opportunities to meet one another and form connections. So, we designed the gathering to allow them to create new relationships, share information and learn new things.
Many met each other for the first time. Others already knew one another but learned a little more. Two grantee panels shared how you can spread the word about your work on a shoestring budget and how to raise money whether you are an individual, a small startup, or a large, seasoned organization.
Faye Anderson, a donor-advised fund grantee, who is usually in the tech space, connected with BMe grantee Lovett Hines of The Philadelphia Clef Club. They plan to work together to develop and disseminate a Philly jazz app. Barbara Allen of Fresh Artists grabbed some folks, including me, and talked about what could be a possible next step: working to create an exchange for grantees to share resources, skills and knowledge. Michelle and Anthony Martin of the Urban Youth Racing School sparked interest in Jon Gosier, a Knight News Challenge winner from the design firm D8A, to become an e-mentor in their What It Takes program. Thom Butler, a BMe grantee with the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable, spent time with David Clayton of Breadboard, a Knight Arts grantee, talking about doing an IgnitePhilly talk. And we had our own version: Seven of the grantees set the stage on fire when they shared their passion and their work with us through their IgKnight talks, short presentations limited to five minutes and 20 slides.
Our grantees also had the opportunity to meet and hear from Carol Coletta, our new vice president for community and national initiatives, in a discussion led by Sandy Shea, editorial page editor of The Philadelphia Daily News. Carol let them know we want them to be partners in our quest to make better, brighter communities. That means they have to share their stories with us - what worked and what didn’t - so that we all learn together.
Since the gathering, grantees have sent me emails describing the event as inspiring, timely, refreshing and innovative. I can imagine they thought it lively, too, especially after their drag queen wakeup call. Edith Piaf, as played by John Jarboe of The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, welcomed our grantees and delivered the best introduction I’ve ever had. It certainly was my first by a deceased French singer.
The big takeaway for me was if you create a welcoming, authentic environment for learning and sharing, people will connect, they will begin to build relationships, and they will be less afraid to share what they know, what they don’t know, where they have failed, and where they have succeeded. I love bringing all my worlds together because I know of the outstanding work that is happening in each. Now, all of our Philadelphia grantees know that as well.
Donna Frisby-Greenwood, Philadelphia program director at Knight Foundation