You spoke, we listened: AGF members weigh in through Member Value Project

Soul searching—that essential human activity—is as vital to the life cycle of a healthy organization as it is to individuals. True introspection begins, of course, with questions. As the Dalai Lama said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

The chance to learn something new was what the Arizona Grantmakers Forum board of directors had in mind in late 2016 when it approved the Member Value Project, a thoughtful assessment of AGF’s current and potential value to members—our own version of organizational soul searching.

We are grateful to the dozens of AGF stakeholders who agreed to be interviewed for the Member Value Project. Thanks to you, we’re already making changes that will lead to a more effective philanthropy-serving organization.

As I’ve met with members in recent weeks, you’ve asked what we learned from the project and what we plan to do about it. I’m pleased to share a high-level overview of the project’s key takeaways here and—most importantly—preview the coming attractions you can expect as we roll into 2018.

The backstory

The board’s vision for the Member Value Project was to go beyond the typical year-end member satisfaction survey and gain a deeper understanding of perceptions about AGF among current, former and prospective members. Chiefly, the board wanted to know why you belong to AGF and what you most value about our network. Beyond those questions, the board hoped to learn what you really need from your association and turn your wants and needs into action steps that enhance the value AGF delivers.

The process 

To assist us with this research, we engaged Tucson consulting pros Heather Hiscox and Amelia Klawon from Moves the Needle. Hiscox and Klawon in June-July connected with 73 people from organizations and companies that are current, former or potential AGF members for “empathy interviews.” Through a series of one-on-one phone conversations, the empathy interviews yielded a fascinating window into the passions and struggles you have in common, as well as your views about the current and potential value of AGF.

The Moves the Needle team anonymized and synthesized comments from all interviewees, and presented to the AGF board and team a 69-page summary report chock full of insights into our customers’ needs and the value you expect. They also trained our team to use Lean Innovation techniques to experiment with and test new ideas on a small scale before implementing them.

What we learned about you

 You share a deep love of making a difference in your communities

      • You struggle with questions about how to create maximum impact and measure your results
      • Your greatest challenges include feeling overwhelmed by the needs in our state, given your limited resources
      • You share a view that your organization is unique among Arizona’s philanthropic community

 What we learned about your perceptions and value of AGF

 You view AGF as a convener that provides opportunities to network and connect with colleagues

      • You see us as an educator that offers high-quality shared-learning experiences with an Arizona focus
      • You view AGF as an advocate and an emerging voice for Arizona philanthropy
      • You appreciate the professionalism of the AGF team and see us as engaged, responsive and dedicated to supporting you and your work

 Where we need to focus

 The AGF team and board took all of this feedback to heart. We believe it provides a clear roadmap that points the way to four key focus areas and action steps:

      1. We need to rebalance our customer engagement strategy.Interviews revealed that AGF membership is a better fit for some prospective members than for others. We’re now focusing our marketing efforts on those who would most benefit from connecting with our network.
      2. We need to prioritize engagement with you, our current members. We want to deepen our understanding of your unique challenges and needs, and use your feedback to enhance the value we offer. And while we enjoy strong relationships with a broad range of members, it’s clear there are too many organizations where only one or two people are actively engaged in AGF. By redoubling our efforts to connect with more people within all of our member organizations, we’ll strengthen our network for everyone’s benefit.
      3. We need to innovate and experiment to add value. Using the Lean Innovation strategies we learned from Moves the Needle, we’ll experiment with your ideas and implement those that hold the most promise.
      4. We need to clarify and communicate AGF’s value proposition. Some interviewees said they weren’t entirely clear about AGF’s value and the benefits we offer. Others expressed some misconceptions about who we are and what we do.

Using this roadmap, we’ve already embarked on a journey to take AGF to the next level as Arizona philanthropy’s premier leadership organization. I’ve set a goal to meet with leaders and staff of every AGF member organization before we close the book on 2018. So, if we don’t already have a meeting on our calendars, I hope to schedule one soon.

We’ve taken a fresh look at our statement of value, as well. Thanks to the insights you shared, we created a new and improved value proposition we hope you’ll be excited to share:

Arizona Grantmakers Forum is the statewide network that connects, educates and advocates for Arizona philanthropy.

We turn connections into partnerships, knowledge into practice and advocacy  into positive change for Arizona communities.

More than a one-time initiative, the Member Value Project is now an integral part of AGF’s culture. So as look ahead to an exciting new year together, we hope you’ll continue to share your ideas with us as we pursue our mission to empower members to transform Arizona through leadership and meaningful philanthropy.


Laurie Liles
President and Chief Executive Officer