Strength in Numbers:  Jenkins Foundation joins statewide philanthropy network

The Virginia Funders Network is a new platform that enables funders of all types and sizes to connect, learn and, when appropriate, leverage their collective resources and advocacy efforts for greater impact. Building off the high level of collaboration in philanthropy in recent years, this network is also emerging at a time when funders are grappling with many of the same questions – how to best support their communities in building resilience after the pandemic, how to infuse equity into decision-making, and how to engage public and private partners effectively.

The Jenkins Foundation is a proud contributing member of the Virginia Funders Network. We recently talked about this initiative with fundraising consultant Bobby Thalhimer and Jenkins former chair, Patte Koval, who were pivotal in shaping the idea and building its infrastructure. Here is what we learned about how the network is poised to foster more effective philanthropy across Virginia.


At a gathering of funders in Charlottesville in 2018, guest speaker Bill Hazel (former Virginia Health and Human Services Secretary) noted how similar the discussions are among state lawmakers and philanthropic leaders on topics like health. He suggested the two groups should talk more frequently, which launched a formal exploratory process that included a study of grantmaking associations in other states and 37 in-depth interviews to learn how such an endeavor might work in Virginia.

Virginia has many local and regional funders, but none that are statewide. This has led to a perception that distinct regional differences make it difficult to learn and apply lessons from other parts of the state. What emerged from the interviews, however, was that other commonalities – such as foundation type or focus area – offer ample opportunity for robust discussion, idea sharing, and even advocacy.

How It Works

With their combined experiences as board or staff of local foundations, Bobby and Patte recognize the benefits of regional conferences like those offered by the Southeastern Council of Foundations (based in Atlanta), but also recognize their limitations. “You often come home filled with enthusiasm, but then when you try to apply a great idea from Georgia or Florida here at home, it’s hard to get much traction,” said Patte, a recent Hull Fellow of the Southeastern Council on Foundations.

Built in the spirit of inclusion, the Virginia Funders Network will launch with nearly 100 members that reflect the diversity of Virginia’s regions and a range of funder types, as well as personal aspects of diversity. While the plans include one annual in-person conference, most activity will occur online to ensure equal access for everyone regardless of their location. This includes quarterly networking groups based on type of foundation (i.e. community foundations, private foundations) and interest area (i.e. health, education, social justice) in which they can delve deeper into a shared challenge or hear from other statewide leaders working toward similar goals.   

Benefits to its Members

“We want to help Virginia funders build relationships of trust across the state that would be difficult to develop otherwise,” said Bobby. “Trust is built from being together and, ultimately, I believe members will find allies they didn’t know they had.”

Patte agrees, noting several opportunities for the Jenkins Foundation board who are starved to learn more. “I am fascinated by rural funders who have a unique ability to rally support from their communities around an issue, and we can learn from colleagues who are on a similar journey in developing diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.”

The VFN will also include a trustees-only networking group that will allow for conversations that are suited to their role. “I’ve been to lots of conferences as both a staff member and a trustee, and the trustee sessions tend to be the most interesting and impactful. They are generative, they share experiences and issues they are facing,” said Bobby. “The level of discussion has a different character – talking not from the technical standpoint that staff talk about, but rather the strategic aspect of what they are trying to accomplish and what is working.”

Beyond networking and learning, the VFN is also poised to help leverage members’ collective influence with state government on policy issues, as well as national or non-traditional funders who may wish to work in Virginia. The network currently includes nearly 100 members, including the Jenkins Foundation, SisterFund, and the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond, and it will be led by a CEO to be named in early 2021.

To learn more, please contact Bobby Thalhimer at or Patte Koval at