What will PACE’s philanthropic laboratory do in 2021?

PACE has been stepping into its role as a philanthropic laboratory, which is both our mission, identity, and our way of being in the world. To us, a philanthropic laboratory is a collective space for philanthropy where learning is participatory and actionable, and over the last year, we have grown in appreciation for the value and design of our philanthropic laboratory. You can read those reflections in our post: What is a philanthropic laboratory? We now want to make this feel more concrete for PACE Members and our network by sharing what this means we will do and advance in the field of civic philanthropy over the next year.

We come into 2021 shaped by the events of 2020. PACE — as an organization and as a community of funders — learned a lot that we now carry forward into our work. For PACE, the transition into 2021 is both an acknowledgement of the new world we are operating in and a progression into the second year of our strategic plan. As we now seek to more fully embrace and implement our identity as a philanthropic laboratory that aims to learn, experiment, collaborate, and model vibrant civic space, we will be organizing our work to pursue three goals and two commitments:


  1. Build and strengthen relationship infrastructure within philanthropy to support civic engagement and democratic practices.
  2. Enhance funder practice and support for civic philanthropy.
  3. Expand the knowledge base regarding civic philanthropy.


  1. Center racial equity in our work as a community and through our engagement in the civic philanthropy field.
  2. Measure and evaluate our impact as an organization and community.

In many ways, these goals and commitments are not new; they are evolutions of PACE’s strategy and a refresh to align within our identity as a philanthropic laboratory. Where it was needed, PACE made investments in 2020 to “ready” ourselves to more fully actualize these goals and commitments in 2021 and beyond. For example, we formally collaborated with dedicated consultants to guide the development of a racial equity framework and an evaluation framework that help us think through what’s possible, appropriate, and prioritized in fulfilling our commitment to these strategic goals. We will be sharing more about those frameworks and our learning journey in follow-on pieces.

2021 Plans

Our plans for 2021 are truly that: plans. One of our major learnings over the last year is how important flexibility and “quick pivots” are to an organization should circumstances change. Like many of you, we are hopeful that 2021 provides more stability and planfulness than our last year offered, but we share these plans with humility and renewed appreciation for what is inside and outside of our control. In addition, this plan was informed by PACE Members, who shared priorities, insights, and guidance through our member survey at the start of 2021; this plan was shaped with our Members’ feedback at the center.

Our 2021 Plan breaks down into two categories.

Services and Supports

PACE’s services are the proactive offerings PACE will develop and implement to build and strengthen relationship infrastructure within philanthropy. These intend to reinforce the goals noted above: to support civic engagement and democratic practices, enhance funder practice and support for civic philanthropy, and expand the knowledge base regarding civic philanthropy. Some of these services are new this year and others will feel familiar:

  • Quarterly Funder Fellowship Meetings. These meetings will be an evolution of our Member Meetings with the goal of creating more space for peer learning and fellowship at a slightly more frequent clip, which was major feedback from the survey.
  • Briefings and Sense-making Sessions. This year demonstrated that there are flashpoint moments, events, or issues that need immediate energy from the civic philanthropy field. PACE will continue to serve as a facilitator to brief Members as well as create the space for funders to make sense of new realities. These will be scheduled on an as-needed basis.
  • Amplification of/for Members. PACE will continue to maintain a “pulse” on the civic philanthropy field by both serving as a platform for our members to further amplify their work as well as a place to learn about what is going on in the larger field and network. PACE’s newsletters, Twitter, and Medium publication (Office of Citizen) will be our primary tools for amplification.
  • Coordination with other Philanthropy-Serving Organizations (PSOs) and donor networks. Another — though distinct — way we will keep our pulse on the civic philanthropy field is to coordinate and collaborate with other PSO and donor network peers (such as Democracy Funders Network, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, Media Impact Funders, and Grantmakers for Education). We have found major potential in this strategy to leverage resources and energy in the broader field to create richer learnings, tackle shared challenges, seize major opportunities, and expand our “toolbox” of resources.

PACE’s supports are the offerings we have available to individual PACE members by request. We consider our supports to be tools we have developed and are ready to be pulled from our toolbox — whenever and however PACE members may find them useful. Members should consider these at their disposal as they plan, develop, implement, or analyze work related to civic engagement and democratic practice.

  • One-on-one calls with the PACE team. We heard through the survey how important it is to Members to tap into the unique expertise and perspective of our team, whether it’s to get a reaction to an idea, design a conference session or Board discussion, or solicit connections to organizations working on shared priorities. In 2021, we will continue to make it easy to access Kristen and the team for thought partnership on any topic related to civic engagement and democratic life.
  • Peer Consults. Peer consults give PACE Members an opportunity to have their peers and fellow grantmakers provide feedback, advice, or thought partnership on a topic related to their work in civic philanthropy.
  • Imagination Sprints and Workshops. Last year, we developed Imagination Sprints, which is a tool to apply imagination to topics as a way of uncovering assumptions, sparking insights, and seeing what new ideas emerge. We ran four Imagination Sprints and two Imagination Workshops last year. As an evolution of that work, we offer this support as a resource to PACE Members and their work.
  • On-boardings/briefings. PACE Members told us that as new board or staff members join their team, they would like a way to bring them up to speed on PACE, our work, and the civic philanthropy field. We are excited to provide this support by request.

Learning and Experimentation

The other category of PACE’s work in 2021 will focus on streams of learning and experimentation. Each stream serves as an anchor theme to organize a variety of activities that allow us — as a community — to elevate learning around them broadly. When we find there is a specific hypothesis to test, we will design experiments to deepen that learning and make the process of learning participatory and actionable for members. The goal with all of our learning and experimentation work is that we have a meaningful contribution to offer to the civic philanthropy field as a result of our efforts.

We are coalescing around three learning and experimentation streams for 2021. These are rising to the top based on the opportunities we see in the field, the feedback in the member survey, and an assessment of the areas where PACE is uniquely positioned to make a contribution. It was also important that we selected streams that PACE has already demonstrated leadership and can build upon previous work; that foundation is outlined below:

  • Bridging and Polarization. Learning and experimentation in this area feels like some of the highest work we can do right now as a community. Our continued work to understand faith’s role in bridging through our Faith In/And Democracy initiative falls here, as does our previous learnings through our Bridging Civic Divides essay series and trust Imagination Sprint.
  • Civic Education and Learning. In recent years, there has been renewed energy around the need for civic learning. Since 2018, PACE has led the Civic Learning Affinity Group, and we will continue that work and explore distinct activities that allow us to deepen our learning and experimentation in this area.
  • Language. There is a lot to explore to better understand the language Americans are using to describe and engage in democracy. Our Language Perceptions Project was a helpful start, but the events of the last year compel us to go deeper, including the possibility of further exploring how people talk about this work, but what it means for efforts around pro-democracy narratives and rhetoric.

The exact activities that grow out of these streams are being explored, and you will see more from us as plans evolve.

In 2021, we hope to be able to convene the PACE community in-person. We heard through the survey how much members are all looking forward to being together as a community — we are too! At the same time, we want to manage expectations about in-person convening this year. Based on the member survey, it seems that COVID-19 will continue to keep people home and not traveling for most of 2021. As such, most of PACE’s services, supports, learning, and experimentation will be hosted virtually in 2021. We are hopeful that circumstances improve enough for us to safely host everyone at the end of the year; we will make that call as time gets closer.

Again, we want to thank our Members for their feedback that shaped this plan. This is the work we hope to do for and with PACE Members this year, recognizing that plans must also remain flexible should circumstances change in the world. We are looking forward to a productive 2021.

Our next piece will tackle the question: How might a philanthropic laboratory center racial equity? Check out www.PACEFunders.org for more information about PACE’s work.

Office of Citizen

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) is a…

Office of Citizen

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) is a network of funders who believe our democracy will be healthier, more resilient, and productive with the office of citizen at its center. This diverse range of stories come from PACE members, partners, and guest contributors.

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE)

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A network of foundations and funders committed to civic engagement and democratic practice. Visit our publication at: medium.com/office-of-citizen

Office of Citizen

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) is a network of funders who believe our democracy will be healthier, more resilient, and productive with the office of citizen at its center. This diverse range of stories come from PACE members, partners, and guest contributors.

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