Nonprofits and Grantmakers Unite for Greater Good

by Kristen Merrifield

Three years ago, I delivered a keynote message to hundreds of nonprofit professionals at our annual ENGAGE Nonprofit Conference in Phoenix about the importance of nonprofits having a “seat at the table” on issues impacting Arizona. In fact, we decided together that it isn’t enough to have a seat at the table. We dreamed of building a new table where everyone has equal voice in creating solutions to serve and include all Arizonans. That very day, we started to envision with excitement what that could look like and what it might mean for our sector and those we served.

Then in 2020, our world changed, creating extreme hardships for nonprofits and the people who rely on us for critical services and resources. It changed the way we interacted with the world and created feelings of isolation and even hopelessness. At the same time, this crisis created huge opportunities for change. I heard grantmakers and corporate partners stepping up to the plate asking me, “What do nonprofits need most right now?” I witnessed grantmakers and nonprofits forming distribution networks to get critical supplies to organizations and communities in need. Grant applications were simplified. More and more grants were unrestricted. In a time of uncertainty and heartache, it was a remarkable example of what is possible when we come together, break out of normal patterns, and focus on needed outcomes. 

It was in this beautiful mess that something magical started to happen. The Alliance and Arizona Grantmakers Forum board members began courageous conversations about how to permanently break down the walls between the nonprofit and grantmaking sectors. We dreamed about what Arizona might look like if the relationships between grantmakers and nonprofits became transformational, rather than simply transactional. We committed to inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in new and deeper ways. We hosted retreats and invited our members to step into each other’s shoes. Nonprofit leaders learned what it feels like to be a grantmaker struggling to meet demands with limited dollars. Grantmakers understood more deeply what it’s like to fill out applications late into the night, hoping at least one will turn into a yes. We realized just how much we have in common.

Then, on August 1, we took a bold, almost unprecedented step toward actually building that new table. We MERGED, so that nonprofits and grantmakers can work together to solve complex community problems — not only as grantor and grantee, but as equal partners, sitting alongside each other at our expanding table.

But our work has just begun. As Henry David Thoreau said, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” It is the passion within us all that will continue to drive us forward. Over the next year, a new name and a new strategic plan is coming. We will be exploring what our membership models, member benefits, programs and advocacy agenda should look like. This new organization will depend on the strength of our relationships, the expansiveness of our vision, and the depth of our willingness to work together. We invite you to come along with us as we create the Arizona we all want and are proud to call home. 

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