An African woman holds a microphone and speaks while a small seated crowd listens
2023 Donor Salon in Kigali, Rwanda

The Donor Salon, Rethinking How to Catalyze Change

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by Sylvia K. Ilahuka, Writer & Editor

We mentioned a Donor Salon in the previous article and you may be wondering what that is. Within the philanthropy sector, there is an abundance of resources offered to doers (such as our Active Partnership package), and it’s seldom thought that donors might need the same. Segal Family Foundation has been working with peer funders for years, and we get many questions: how do we work with local African organizations? How do we overcome logistical barriers to making grants internationally? How do we decentralize decision-making power? A relatively new concept, donor salons are spaces for those on the funding side of philanthropy to speak candidly with one another and relate experiences. We hosted our first-ever Donor Salon during the week of our 2023 Annual Meeting in Kigali last month, intended as an opportunity to gather fellow funding organizations who are interested in the things we also care about: African leaders, local ideas in action, and collaboration. We brought together like-minded donor entities to talk about the ‘how’ and to trade understanding, figuring out how we can all work together for maximal impact.

As much as we’d never done this before, we did know that a successful donor salon needs to create an environment where participants could feel comfortable discussing fairly sensitive topics. Segal Family Foundation’s Equitable Giving team (who made this remarkable toolkit) had been anticipating predominantly emerging funder organizations; registrations were quadruple the number expected and included mature funders as well. We had also assumed the audience would be largely Western, and we were glad to see diverse attendance with representation from Ghana to Germany, Malawi to Monaco, Switzerland to South Africa, and more. Another pleasant surprise was that some flew all the way to Kigali specifically to attend just the Donor Salon! While there, several funders mentioned the dearth of similar opportunities to connect with each other around topics such as transformative safeguarding, using smart capital to achieve outsized impact, and how funding can shift an organization’s trajectory. Our team also shared tips for finding and nurturing visionaries who have the potential for great social change. The eagerness for connection was palpable, and many donor attendees expressed appreciation for the convening. Donor salons are a place for funders to talk about the realities of being funders — from organizational challenges to embodiment of values. The power dynamics brought on by money and its movement can render it difficult for these conversations to happen often; our Donor Salon was a safe space for genuine learning amongst people who speak the same language.

A smiling white woman stands next to a poster with sticky notes on it
Small group sessions during the Donor Salon

Having made nearly 3,000 grants in 13 years (the second most by a US grantmaker in Africa), we still have much to learn but also have a lot to share already. This year we hosted a platform for progressive and honest conversations around equitable giving, with representatives from influential global organizations such as KBFUS, The Bridgespan Group, Mulago Foundation, and Dreilinden. Better yet, one session was led by our very own African Visionary FellowsLinda Kamau (AkiraChix), Solomon King Benge (Fundi Bots), and Solomon Makuza (Gardens for Health International). In future, we would like to move all these conversations towards meaningful and direct actions that will channel more resources to visionary African leaders. We can encourage this by offering a menu of opportunities for transformation that could include: establishing sectoral or geographical coalitions to attract larger funding figures, identifying ways to co-fund organizations throughout their growth, or even setting up principles for equitable funding that donors could commit to (such as agreeing to share each other’s due diligence and reporting). Also, because we value intimate interpersonal conversations, we would like to create more unprogrammed time for funders to connect and collaborate.

A conference room holds dozens of participants facing a large screen
“Local Intel, Local Solutions, Maximum Impact” session

All in all, the 2023 Donor Salon was incredible. Funders came willing to learn and excited to share their varied perspectives. It provided energy and inspiration ahead of our Annual Meeting later that week. When it comes to transforming change in Africa, part of our how is helping progressive donors do what we do: fund local visionaries with big ideas. For donors, figuring out how to fund stems from knowing from why they fund — which comes from going back to core values, reassessing and recalibrating accordingly. Ultimately, the goal for any donor salon should be to foster relationship building towards better cooperation amongst donor organizations. One funder described the inaugural Segal Family Foundation Donor Salon as “an absolute treasure;” well, we hope to continue adding gems to the chest. If you would like to be part of that by attending, co-hosting, or learning more about our upcoming Donor Salons, please reach out to our Equitable Giving Team via equitablegiving@segalfamilyfoundation.org.

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Segal Family Foundation

Social impact funder and advisor building a network of visionary local leaders and global donors to advance positive change in Africa