Guest Post by Maggie Gunther Osborn, President of Connecticut Council for Philanthropy, fomer Vice President, Florida Philanthropic Network
Florida is a natural partner for work in the aging arena right? Of course, we have been called “God’s waiting room” and the place where older Americans come to retire and snowbirds that drive south during winter to warm their bones. It’s where everyone comes to visit Mickey Mouse and Grandma and Grandpa. Florida’s population is among the oldest in the country and in fact, we have the oldest county demographically in America, Sarasota County.
Sarasota median age: 44.5 years
Florida median age: 41.3 years
National median age 36.8 years
When I joined FPN in 2010 we were awarded a grant to be part of the final cohort of the GIA Engagement Initiative and I knew right away that I was in very new territory. My background as a grantmaker had been primarily in children and youth. Beyond funding for Seniors in Service I was very unaware of issues surrounding our aging population and even less familiar with what the members of FPN were doing in this arena. I had just not been in a place where I thought much about this burgeoning part of our community. As we began to discuss the possibilities of where we could go with our two years of effort, we signed on to partner with SECF, who was a year ahead of us in their engagement work and was creating regular webinars in which FPN’s members could participate. This being established we began to think of what else we could do. The discussions with my members, our funders, and the baseline survey provided the answers.
The member survey and subsequent programming have employed a broad view in asking our members about their funding and involvement in the aging arena. It was clear from our initial research and inquiry that, outside of the traditional framework of health funders, there were no funders among our membership that identified themselves as aging-issue funders, although many of them have some investment in the space. As FPN moved through planning discussions, we chose to work within the framework that all funders, in one way shape or form, are touching the aging population, especially those that are investing in safety net programming, economic development and housing during these difficult times. To address the broader audience of funders, FPN chose to meet them where they were in their funding, offering an additional lens of aging through which they could view their grantmaking.
We began to frame the conversation and all future programming outside traditional silos. Rather it became, and continues to be, the goal of FPN to look at the aging population as a lens that should always be used when looking at any grantmaking; not separate or apart but rather just another framing or piece of the whole puzzle. FPN has also tried to raise awareness of issues and opportunities not by separating out the conversation but rather by infiltrating conversations that Grantmakers and partners are already having. We have also tried adding some joy and energy to what can often times be heavy and unappealing subject matter; approaching from a frame of abundance rather than deprivation.
So what does this look like in Florida? First, one simple example was instead of having a session on aging issues at the 2012 summit that the usual suspects would attend, we educated the entire body of attendees by holding a trivia contest on aging facts that qualified attendees to be part of a drawing for an iPad and drew them to visit vendor booths. At the other end of the spectrum in Florida lies the incredible work that has given birth to The Institute for The Ages in Sarasota. The Institute for the Ages is a new “think” tank that came out of Florida’s economic development efforts. Their mission is to activate ideas that prepare us for the opportunities and challenges associated with aging populations. In addition to providing the infrastructure for, and access to, Sarasota County’s community test bed, the Institute connects members of the community, government, research organizations, companies and other partners to identify policy, product and service innovations that will improve the lives of people across age groups. The idea that aging populations are an economic engine that can be engaged and will drive the economic future for Sarasota is a reframing of the tradition conversation of this population being a drain on resources.
FPN has taken and will continue to take a nontraditional approach to this work and mark our success by shifts in attitudes and breadths of grantmaking that will encompass not isolate the aging populations as a valuable asset in our portfolios.