A First-of-Its-Kind Philanthropy Conference Will Help Infrastructure Groups Work Better Together
I woke up this morning to news of the horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France. I still had not recovered from the numbness and pain I felt following last week’s unconscionable deaths of five police officers in Dallas. When the Dallas shootings occurred, I was still trying to come to grips with the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota a few days earlier. And there’s my continued sorrow over the mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of 49 innocent people – primarily young, LGBTQ Latinos/Hispanics – at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last month (was that just a month ago?). The Pulse tragedy was made all the more painful in that it took place very close to the one-year anniversary of the killing of nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Sadly, I could go on.
We’re all trying to make sense of these tragedies in our personal lives. Those of us working in philanthropy are also struggling to determine what our field can, or should, be doing to help our communities deal with the many complex issues that these tragedies bring to the surface: gun violence; terrorism; racism, homophobia and other forms of hatred; social justice; inequality in many forms; to name a few. Following every tragedy, philanthropy steps in quickly to help communities respond and recover, and to support the community organizations and programs that are dealing with these critical issues on the ground over the longer term. Beyond funding, I think a largely untapped role for philanthropy is to provide a strong and powerful leadership voice to help a country that is reeling from tragedy after tragedy.
Philanthropy can play a unique role in helping to bring communities together, serving as a much-needed community convener and as a reliable source of unbiased information and valued expertise. Even more, philanthropy can step up to the plate in a bigger way to offer a strong ethical compass for our communities and our country; to point out comments and behaviors that are flat out wrong and unacceptable in a civilized society; to appeal to our better angels; to help communities come to terms with deep, complex social issues in ways that other institutions, like the government and media, are not willing or able to do.
As the leader of a national network of 33 regional philanthropy associations, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, I am working to help our members determine their appropriate role amid the barrage of tragedies that seem to have become a routine part of our lives. Not surprisingly, this is going to be a topic of conversation at the Forum’s annual conference in Indianapolis next week. In a first for the Forum, our conference will bring together the CEOs and staffs of our regional philanthropy association members with the CEOs and staffs of 39 national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) as well as the leaders of several philanthropy associations in Europe and Africa.
More than 190 representatives of regional, national and international philanthropy networks and associations will be attending the Forum’s conference this year—our largest-ever attendance and double what it was just two years ago. The main reason for this jump in our conference numbers is that for the past year the Forum has been taking the first steps to implement a new vision to broaden our network to include national PSOs—primarily issue-based, identity-based and practice-based national affinity groups. We intend to be the nexus for regional and national philanthropy; to be the place where philanthropy’s infrastructure comes together. We have been working closely with a group of leaders of regional and national PSOs to guide us in implementing our vision, and we’ve been seeking the input of national PSO leaders throughout the process.
At our conference next week we’ll be sharing more information about our plans for moving forward to put our new vision into practice. We’ll have sessions focused on how to come together as a stronger network to make greater impact in the philanthropic sector, as well as sessions on how to excel with the bread-and-butter of our work: membership management, communications, programming, public policy, technology.
The conference will also be an opportunity for philanthropy infrastructure groups to talk about our leadership role during these challenging times. In one session, for example, we’ll look at how philanthropy associations and networks can help their members address societal issues that are complex and publicly and politically sensitive, learning from the experience of groups in both Europe and the United States as they’ve tackled issues arising from terrorism and migration/immigration. Sadly, our panelist from the foundation association in France will have a very recent tragedy to bring to the conversation. Other sessions will delve into addressing racial equity, diversity and inclusion in our work and eliminating inequities in philanthropy, among other critical issues.
Amid all the tragedy, I am taking hope in the fact that so many philanthropy-serving organizations are willing to do something different and attend a new kind of conference where we’ll be looking at how to shift our thinking and practice and lift up the critical role of PSOs in the philanthropy sector. Every time I talk to a leader of a regional, national or international PSO, I hear a similar refrain: we need to work together better and smarter if we are going to have any hope of moving the needle on the many intractable problems we face in our society. That won’t be solved in a single conference, of course. But I have high hopes that when so many smart and committed people converge in Indianapolis next week, we’ll be able to take an important step forward.
-David Biemesderfer, President & CEO, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers
Follow me @dbiemesderfer