This is a guest post by Renee Brooks Catacalos, Member and Strategic Partnerships Director at Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders.
At one of the roundtable discussions during the Membership Peer Community session at the United Philanthropy Forum Annual Conference, I made a comment about mobilizing funders from our organization’s Membership Committee to have a peer-to-peer conversation with nonrenewing members about why they might not be renewing their membership. A membership director from a regional philanthropy-serving organization said, “That’s a great idea, we should do that!” I replied, “So should I, the idea only just occurred to me as we were talking!” The conversation that sparked that exchange, and several others like it, was a perfect example of the value of stepping away from our day-to-day duties to spend time exploring the mechanisms, techniques, and craft of our jobs through the convening of the United Philanthropy Forum Annual Conference.
I knew nothing about the philanthropy-serving world before joining Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders (SAFSF) as member and strategic partnerships director a few months ago. Not only am I new to the PSO world, but my position is new for SAFSF, so there is a lot of potential to build out new approaches to member and partner engagement. I was excited to attend my first Forum Annual Conference and the experience did not disappoint.
Many sessions established the moral and ethical imperative that must drive the work of philanthropy. Plenary speakers provided testimony and challenged us to internalize and operationalize equity-building practices for ourselves and our organizations. The viscerally disturbing Blanket Exercise, facilitated by Native Americans in Philanthropy, immersed us in the violent history of colonization on America’s Native peoples. The workshops and breakouts took me down the equally important path of learning how to apply those principles by being more effective in my job; allowing me to meet and get to know professional peers from across the country; and providing an opportunity for team-building with my colleagues from SAFSF as we shared and processed the information we each absorbed over the course of the week.
Two or three concrete ideas about engaging members and forming partnerships that I gathered at the conference have already found their way into my work. Our entire staff is excited about the contacts we made with regional PSOs interested in working together to highlight agriculture and food issues relevant to their regions and frame those issues in a national context for their members. We see the potential for high-impact cross-sectoral collaborations with national PSOs we haven’t worked with previously. In the same way, we hope our funder members come away from our own convenings feeling energized and in community around the work they do, I came away from the Forum's Annual Conference feeling the power of being part of a forward-thinking and supportive community as I learn and grow in my role as a PSO professional.