In 2020, 89% of respondents reported seeking knowledge from peers, with 80% relying on external colleagues, and 56% reaching out to internal coworkers. This finding is consistent with 2016, when 92% of respondents reported peers and colleagues as a main source of knowledge about the practice of philanthropy.
There are several reasons for seeking out knowledge from peers. For one, peers’ experiences are relevant because they understand foundations’ inner workings. Also, trusted peers who are further along at developing a philanthropic practice make logical resources for funders wanting to make similar changes. In interviews, funders also underscored the value of peers for quick access to information, which has been especially important in the face of so many new challenges and decisions during the past year, and spoke of trusting people and sources with which they had past experience. One funder said, “[The source is] someone that I know and have worked with in the past whose judgment I trust and who knows me and my work well enough to curate for me.” Interviewees also referred to the external reputation of the source. For DEI practice knowledge, community voice, and lived experience are key indicators of quality for funders.
The survey asked respondents to select any of 12 main knowledge sources, and funders selected an average of six—including peers and five others. Nearly two-thirds of funders report relying on digital media, conference sessions, newsletters, and grantee interactions.
Further, in interviews, funders noted potential limitations of overly relying on peers. One commented, “To the extent that these peers and colleagues don’t represent a diverse set of opinions and perspectives, that would be a problem.” Funders acknowledged the importance of proactively seeking diverse sources and perspectives on philanthropic practice to go deeper on a topic and gain different perspectives.
In-person conferences were the second source after peers in 2016. In a year when a global pandemic led to the cancellation of large in-person events, in-person conferences were cited by far fewer respondents in 2020 than in the earlier study. But funders continue to express positive views of conferences, noting in interviews the benefit of bringing practice knowledge to life through multiple perspectives and real-time interaction.