Blog: Amplify

Reimagining the Council: Focus Group Findings & Our Next Steps

As we continue our journey to Reimagine Council Membership, we recently convened six focus groups of current and former Council members to gather insightson the value of membership, and on our membership systems and dues structure.

We came away with three clear findings that help us better understand the various needs, challenges and values of our unique members so we can effectively move forward as an organization.

Members Want a Clear Value Proposition

Across all six focus groups, we heard a desire for more tangible benefits that clearly reflect the cost of Council membership. Participants noted opportunities for the Council to add value in different areas. Those included foundation type-specific conferences or trainings, partnerships with regional or peer affinity groups and accessibility to content and programming for all foundations, specifically related to legal, advocacy and public policy. Many participants indicated their preference for more convenings between foundations and partners, and greater content development in the legal and policy fields.

The legal issues are why we joined…we need to be much more focused in that area and best practices would be helpful.


The legal services have always been a great resource for us. I haven’t noticed any changes in responsiveness. We are looking at the value to our field that the Council provides. I can appreciate part of our dues going to the greater good. I hope we can redesign the dues structure to bring as many people back as possible, since it is good to get as much support for the field as possible.


Member Needs Differ by Type and Size of Foundation

Focus group participants agreed that the Council is a big tent organization that reflects and supports diverse perspectives of foundations across the US and around the globe. Participants highlighted the importance of showing sensitivity to these differences, from services provided by the Council to the way dues are structured. Because of these differences, the same determinants for calculating dues may not work for all members of the Council.

For example, participants noted that corporate grantmakers don’t have permanent, endowed assets, and community foundations and public charities hold funds—like Donor Advised Funds— that differ from private foundation endowments. We must recognize and celebrate these differences with a dues model that works equitably for all foundation types.

We Need to Collaborate with Peer Philanthropy Networks

Across focus groups, participants expressed a need for more collaboration between the Council and our peer philanthropic networks. Members would like to see even more opportunities to expand their networks and learn from other organizations either through conferences, trainings, webinars or networking events throughout the year.

The intangible value of that is connecting with others around best practices [and] having case studies you can point to when there’s a change in the field…a shift in impact investing is a good example of what we are interested in. The networking events, those are things that are intangible assets.


We have missed gatherings with community foundations as a way to connect with our peers…our state organizations have tried to fill some of those gaps by [convening] community foundations [but] It’s still nice to connect with peers across the country.


We are incredibly grateful to the more than 500 foundation leaders who have taken the time to share their perspectives and insights as we Reimagine Council Membership. The findings from Focus Groups as well as our initial survey are informing the new dues model that we plan to announce later this summer.  

At Leading Together 2019, we will also continue to listen. Our new President & CEO, Kathleen Enright, will host a listening session to hear from different organizations and better understand your needs or challenges. We hope to see you in Miami and ask that you continue to share your thoughts as we better define our value proposition and restructure Council membership.

If you have any specific feedback, please send it to dues@cof.org, so we can respond and incorporate your thoughts and concerns.

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