How to run an event for grantees that they will actually value

It is a historical fact* that mere moments after the first prehistoric grantmaker handed out their first two grants of mammoth meat, the following thought was born: “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could connect Ugg and Gar together! They could become great partners, and I would feel like more than just a human cash machine!”

Wanting to connect grantees together is a common and laudable instinct, whether felt by grantmakers ancient and modern. After all, who doesn’t meet people they consider to be amazing, inspiring and impressive and think “I’d love for these people to meet each other!” It’s the insight that lies behind most good parties, after all.

But connecting grantees to one another can, like so many things in life, be done both really well and really badly. And, oh my, connecting grantees to one another is easy to get wrong.

So here are some simple Dos and Don’ts for the next time you decide that the time has come to introduce your grantees to each other.

DO ask your grantees whether they’d like to be connected to other grantees before you design or deliver your event. If they say yes, ask them what they would and wouldn't like from this encounter. Then, after collecting their ideas, write down a precise description of what your exact goals are before you actually do any event planning: this will help keep you on track.

DON’T assume that a face to face networking event in some shiny room is definitely what your grantees want. They might love the efficiency of a quick and tightly hosted Zoom gathering, or they might actually prefer you to make some personal email intros to other grantees, so they can then have one-to-ones in their own time.

DO tell invited guests very clearly that it is strictly optional to attend, and that their choice not to attend will have no impact on their relationship with you or their chances of future funding. Taking the time to attend your event might cause them huge problems back at the ranch: don’t be the type of grantmaker that forces them to come because they don't dare tell you how much of a pain this will be.

DON’T spend loads of time in the room telling the attendees about your funder’s amazing achievements or grand forthcoming plans, unless they will directly impact on your grantee's ability to succeed.

DO understand that some of your guests will already know each other and will magnetically cluster together, potentially excluding the people who don't know anyone. So you will very likely have to do something deliberate to get attendees to actually meet new people. So consider running speed dating at work exercises or asking several guests to give 5 minute lightning talks about their work. If in doubt, ask your guests what they like before time!

DON’T cram a potentially valuable speed dating exercise into a small sliver of time, compressing all the genuinely ‘meeting new people’ time into a short and overcrowded part of the event. Try to come up with more than one way of helping people to talk to people they don’t know, and give that lots of space and time to happen.

DO make sure people can easily work out who is who at your event. Nice, BIG, clear name badges will help (double-sided if using lanyards), and if any attendees are visually impaired make sure there’s someone available to help them identify who they want to talk to.

DON’T explain your new funder strategy in painful levels of detail especially if you didn’t ask the people in the room what they thought before it was signed off.

DO explain to everyone who is invited how they can get to talk to you about the future of their funding separately to this event (so they feel they can relax and not have to spend the whole event trying to collar you about money).

DON’T expect people to come from far away without paying for their travel. Include a clear offer to pay in your original invitation. For smaller organisations you should also consider paying for their time: yes, even if you’ve given them a grant.

DO consider giving people decent food so they both feel appreciated and so they can focus on other people, not their own hunger or how they're going to find something to eat afterwards. And ask for their dietary requirements, obvs.

DON’T confuse one of these 'connect the grantee' gatherings with a strategy day or other type of event where you're trying to get something from your attendees. And never create silly new burdens for your grantees: don’t insist that the grantees come together to ‘create something new’ or 'create new partnerships'. They all have their own individual needs and goals, some of which will benefit from meeting peers, some of which won't. Treat your guests like adults and let them work out what it is they want from others.

DO make sure that any facilitator you use can be really trusted with this type of unusual, non-business event. Nobody can waste more nonprofit people's precious time than the wrong facilitator. Oh lordy.

So that's our list of Dos and Don’ts for running events that connect grantees with each other. If you’ve got any other favourite (or least favourite) practices at this sort of event, please drop us a mail or share them on social media - if you @ us we’ll share!

* Fact check: actually we made this up.