How One Funder's Affinity Group Is Stepping Up Its Game

What do you do when you're stuck in neutral and there's a hill to climb? You reach for another gear, of course. And that is what the Peace and Security Funders Group is doing. PSFG, founded in 1999, is an affinity group for funders waging peace and trying to improve global security. The group has 56 members, large and small, each trying to navigate a world where regional conflicts, ethnic strife and terrorism have supplanted the monolithic Cold War adversary.

In September, PSFG hired a new executive director, 35-year-old Alexandra I. Toma, to "shake things up," as she put it. While praising the group’s staunch advocacy for the community, Toma believes there's much "untapped potential" and she spent much of her first two months on the job asking members to assess strengths and weaknesses—and how best to open the taps.

So at PSFG's annual conference in Chicago this week, after Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois had welcomed the faithful, Toma announced a three-pronged plan to make PSFG the go-to affinity group in the peace community and to enable its members to get more, er, bang, for their bucks.

  1. Build peace and peace capacity—as an organization servicing its members, but also building the capacity of members as grantmakers in this sphere. In other words, finding strength in numbers. "Members want us to provide a platform where they can come together and strategize, learn from one another and collaborate on joint projects," says Toma. I believe the right word is "leverage."
  2. Enhance and augment PSFG's public voice and its brand. There are lots of other affinity groups, and some of these groups are quite visible, like the Neighborhood Funders Group and the Environmental Grantmakers Association. PSFG want to boost its profile, too—not for its own sake, but to add value, in marketing lingo.
  3. Expand the community so that there are more diverse voices talking about peace and security. This doesn't mean diversity in the racial or ethnic sense, but in terms of expanding the meaning of security to include human, food and economic security. If economic inequality and class warfare are threats to peace, they are issues that must be addressed.

In sum, Toma sees these new directions as means to an end: becoming more influential. PSFG can do more as a powerful group of funds to inform and educate policymakers. Why are its members investing in certain issues? What is our group's theory of change? This is Peace 2.0, she says. As Toma has discovered in eight months, there's no security in standing pat.