We’ve always felt that the best way to understand our nonprofit partners and their challenges is to get to know them face to face. In 2005, we started inviting other funders to come along for the ride — literally! Working with partners in the Windham community, we arranged a funder bus tour of the nonprofit organizations in town. One morning, we got together and drove to a dozen different agencies. At each, we spent 15–20 minutes hearing about their programs, then hopped back on the bus and moved on to the next. Funders and nonprofits gathered for lunch and networking, and then each funder spoke briefly about their priorities and procedures.
This was so well received by both funders and nonprofits that we’ve done it again and again over the years: in Middletown, Norwich, New London, and again in Windham. At each tour, at least one funder will say, “We’ve been making grants here for years, but this is the first time I’ve ever met any of these grantees face to face.” And that face time pays off: at the very first tour, we learned that after-school programs in Windham were endangered by the expiration of a state grant. We joined with three other funders who attended the tour to provide a $75,000 collaborative grant that saved the programs from closing down. Every tour has resulted in additional investment in the community by the funders who attended. So we’ll keep on busing!