9 September 2021

Future of the Grantmakers East Forum

If you were to evaluate the success of initiatives to support philanthropy, the Grantmakers East Forum (GEF) would score very highly.  Results of a review being undertaken by the Steering Committee show that GEF has played a central role in building the philanthropic sector in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

From its origins in offering a forum for new and emerging philanthropies, it has helped to create an ever-more sophisticated field of well-organised institutions pioneering a new model of philanthropy appropriate to the conditions in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

At the same time, the review shows that GEF’s original model should be updated because its original purpose has largely been achieved and new needs have emerged.

The Steering Committee plans to discuss a new direction with members in October – hopefully in person in Vienna after the EFC AGA. The committee is conducting research ahead of that meeting so that decisions taken are rooted in what members want and need, as well as being aligned with the new support structures  that emerge from the amalgamation of the EFC and Dafne.

Research so far indicates that it is essential that voices from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia are central to arrangements to support philanthropy in Europe. It is also important to build on what GEF has achieved over the years.

Interviews with 10 members of GEF from different parts of the region suggest that the term ‘GEF’ evoked strong feelings of loyalty and other emotionally positive terms among those interviewed.  For many, mention of the network generated a series of interconnected ideas of ‘friendship’, ‘connections’, ‘peers’, ‘welcoming’, ‘participatory’, and ‘fun’.  People saw GEF as a warm and caring place of solidarity in relationships.

GEF provided a place that contrasted with some other forums for philanthropy.  Whilst GEF was ‘young’, ‘vibrant’, ‘informal’, ‘inspirational’ and ‘a place where we could dance’, this differed from the EFC AGA, which was seen as ‘larger’, ‘formal’, ‘older’, ‘structured’ and – for some – ‘routine’.

Notwithstanding these positive evaluations of GEF, most of those interviewed felt that the best years lay behind it.  This reflected its success in supporting an emergent field into an established one, so that its role was less urgent than before.

Everyone interviewed suggested that achievement of the main goals was not a reason for closing down. There was still much work to be done in the new context.  Indeed, people suggested that it was important to build on past achievements to inform the next stage of its work.  This would involve some reframing of the work and its organisation.

You have the opportunity to influence those decisions by taking part.  The steering committee is consulting people through a survey, which can be accessed here [link is https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/GrantmakersEast].

The closing date for the survey is 15 September 2021.


Barry Knight

Director, Webb Memorial Trust