Milan x 2

I have been to Milan twice this month. This is not just because I am a lover of Italy’s food, fashion and people (I am) but because both the Festival del Fundraising and the European Foundation Centre Conference were held in, or near, Milan.

This was like a Barcelona-Real Madrid match, with each team playing solo, two weeks apart. Two of the most significant stakeholder groups in the non-profit sector, the fundraisers and the philanthropists, each with their own view of how to change the world.

Amongst the differences there were common themes. Both sectors are growing. This year’s Festival del Fundraising was the largest ever, and the EFC Conference was a sell-out too. The rate of foundation growth is astonishing – two new German foundations are created each day, and we know from Factary’s New Trust Update that 214 new grant-makers were registered in 2014 in the UK. The same growth story emerged at EFC from all over Europe.

Both foundations and fundraisers are becoming more professional. Foundation staff are training at centres such as the Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, while fundraisers are going to back to school at universities across the continent, including Italy’s University of Bologna, and the course I teach on, the Postgraduate Certificate in Fundraising at the University of Barcelona.

While both teams are training, there is a remarkable demographic similarity between them. Women lead both teams. The population at the Festival, and at EFC reflected this, whether we were talking about the all-women fundraising team at Save the Children in Rome or the Chair and key staff of Turkey’s Vehbi Koç Foundation. The future of our increasingly interconnected sector will be shaped by women.

Both conferences dealt with social change, in slightly different ways. At the Festival we heard about social change brought about by donations through non-profits. At the EFC we heard about social change through collaboration. Yes, collaboration. Not grant-making, or at least not centrally grant-making. An excellent workshop led by Nicky McIntyre of Mama Cash showed how Oak Foundation was focusing on changing the situation of women by collaborating with companies. Katharina Samara-Wickram from Oak Foundation described the organisation’s evolving Theory of Change. The foundation had initially focused all its women’s rights efforts on women’s rights organisations. But it had also commissioned research, from AWID amongst others, and had discovered that it might get more rights for its dollar (or Swiss Franc) if it instead worked on the millions of companies employing hundreds of millions of women around the globe. As a result Oak has developed an 8-point Business Case for women’s rights aimed at employers and using them as the vehicle for winning rights for women. This was one example amongst many of collaborations between foundations, NGOs and business to effect change in society.

I discussed this with a team from a leading UN organisation. The implications for fundraising are important, with the role of the fundraiser changing from being simply a grant-chaser to becoming the central relationship point for a complex web linking her own organisation with foundations, companies and other stakeholder groups.

The significant divergence between the two conferences came when we talked about investment. Fundraising team leaders in Italy complained about a lack of investment. Salaries in the sector are still modest and few organisations are willing to take the brave step of dramatically increasing investment in fundraising. By contrast the foundation sector spent a lot of time on investment, and appears to be ready to take on risk, so long as it has a social end. Thus the Italian majors, Fondazione Cariplo and Fondazione CRT both have programmes for investing their endowment in activities with a social as well as a financial purpose. There was some talk of divestment – with foundations encouraged to divest from the fossil fuel industry. But the bigger theme was Mission Related Investment. This was talked about across the EFC conference, with foundations making substantial investments in the social housing sector, and as venture philanthropy in social enterprises. Mission Related Investment opens up a substantial new line of funding for social purpose organisations – another challenge for traditional fundraising teams in Europe.

With only a little hindsight, both conferences felt like a revolution. Just ten years ago the Italian fundraising sector was tiny – a handful of visionaries in a few risk-ready organisations. At that time most European foundations were a closed shop – few published an annual report or had a website or could be induced to talk about their work. Their boards and management were older and dominated by men. Since then we have had a wave of transparency legislation running across Europe accompanied by a push for the same by the EFC itself – so now we can see what’s happening in foundations in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain (ironically, Italy remains somewhere behind the pack on transparency.) The feeling that a revolution is taking place in the sector ran through both conferences.

It is great to be living in revolutionary times.

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