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A Milestone for Philanthropy

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The 2016 Annual Conference of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers is a wrap, and it was one for the record books. The conference, which was held on July 18-20 in Indianapolis, attracted more than 190 representatives of regional, national and international philanthropy networks and associations. That number is more than 30% above the record-setting attendance of the Forum’s 2015 conference and double the attendance from just two years ago. 

One reason for this big jump in attendance is that the Forum opened up the conference for the first time to the CEOs and staff members of national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs)—primarily issue-based, identity-based and practice-based national affinity groups; one-third of conference attendees represented these national groups. The expanded conference was part of the Forum’s new and evolving vision to be the place where philanthropy’s infrastructure comes together, broadening the Forum’s membership beyond our current 33 regional philanthropy association members to include national PSOs.

The potential power of this expanded network was evident throughout the conference, first and foremost by the energy and enthusiasm that was palpable in the hallways and meeting rooms throughout the three days. Never before had so many leaders of so many philanthropy infrastructure groups gathered together in one place to explore their important role in serving, informing and advancing the field of philanthropy. Many new connections were made, many new ideas were shared, many new partnerships were ignited. You couldn’t help but get excited by seeing all of this happening in real time.

Audrey Haberman, 2016 Forum Annual Conference#ForumCon16 featured numerous opportunities for regional and national PSOs to explore our role in helping philanthropy address critical leadership issues for the field. One such issue addressed in different ways throughout the conference was racial equity, diversity and inclusion. Representatives of regional and national PSOs shared their work and learning in tackling racial equity in philanthropy. Very much on everyone’s minds were the recent shootings and attacks in Orlando, Dallas, Saint Paul, Baton Rouge and Nice, and how these were wrapped in the raw emotion of racial conflict. We didn’t come up with clear-cut long-term solutions to the complex issues underlying these tragedies, but we did agree that the only chance we have for moving forward is to move forward together.

Other conference sessions spotlighted how regional and national PSOs can work together to better serve and advance philanthropy. We heard about lessons learned from current partnerships and collaborations between regional and national PSOs. We discussed how we can use network theory and a network mindset to grow an active, vibrant network where we can use all of our resources as effectively as possible to move the needle on the most critical issues facing our communities. We learned from our colleagues in Europe about how philanthropy networks and associations can take a leadership role with issues that are complex and politically and emotionally charged.

2016 Forum Annual ConferenceAnother conference highlight was the announcement of the next steps in moving forward to implement the Forum’s new vision, which elevated the conference energy to a new level (during the announcement, a national philanthropy leader turned to me with a big grin and said, “Wow, this is really exciting!”). Members of the Forum’s Vision Design Group, comprised of a diverse group of leaders from national and regional PSOs across the country, shared details on how we plan to build our exciting, impactful new network and start imagining new possibilities. Vision Design Group members talked about regional and national PSOs engaging in new and deeper partnerships, being fully supported in their work, sharing data and knowledge, and much more.

We are on the cusp of creating something important that will be of tremendous benefit to philanthropy-serving organizations and our field. We can’t imagine all of the possibilities right now, but I can tell you that the Forum conference was a great example of our new vision in action. If we are all committed to working together in new and innovative ways, with the values of generosity of spirit, mutual benefit, trusted relationships, flexibility and openness, testing and learning, and diversity and inclusion, we can do amazing things together.

David Biemesderfer, President & CEO, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers
Follow me @dbiemesderfer

Note: Several conference participants have shared their own views on the conference, including the following posts:

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