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The State of the Forum Address

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

DSCN4817 On July 30th, the membership of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers met for our annual member meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Forum CEO Michael Litz provided a "State of the Forum" address, a transcript of which is below.

Welcome everyone to the Forum’s Annual Meeting. Today we will review and discuss some major developments in our network since we met in Pittsburgh a year ago. It’s a testament to the amount of activity that we can’t possibly cover all our activities. We will also recognize the many leaders that have made this work possible.

It has been a significant year for our network. Most gratifying to me is not only what we have accomplished together but how we have done this work. Our network is now bound by common values, supported by structures and processes that make joint action possible, and increasingly aware of the greater role we can and should play to help advance our field.

Over the past year we successfully completed a refresh of our strategic plan for 2013 to 2015. We received input from every regional in this process as well as many of our partners. The process reaffirmed that our network orientation is working and is yielding tangible benefits to our member RAs and those they serve.

Our new plan focuses on our impact: Impact on Forum members by increasing regional association capacity; impact on issues by improving collaborative action; impact on the philanthropic infrastructure by influencing the way our field operates; impact on the Forum itself by achieving organizational excellence and sustainability.

I want to recognize the Strategic Planning 3.0 Task Force for their dedication and smart work and especially the co-chairs—Marissa Manlove and Nancy Jamison—for their leadership. You have charted an exciting course for the Forum over the next three years. Thank you.

In PolicyWorks, we have witnessed a real growth in the capacity of our members to do policy work. Now 28 RAs actively participate, up from 21 just a year ago. We are looking forward to an exciting Institute immediately following this conference. I was to recognize Barbara Taylor and Laurel O’Sullivan for leading the PolicyWorks Steering Committee so ably over the past year and for ensuring that topics that are being tackled are those that mean the most to our members. Our board-level policy committee, charged with coordinating all policy efforts across our network, has really come into its own thanks in large part to the leadership of its two chairs—Rob Collier and David Biemesderfer. Thank you. Through their efforts the Forum took its first policy position—supporting the charitable deduction—and since then the Forum and many RAs have been active in the Charitable Giving Coalition, providing the legs and local connections needed to make an impact in DC.

Foundations on the Hill this year had record attendance and marked the 11th year of our collaboration with the Council on Foundations on this milestone event and the first year coordinating our efforts with ACR. We will continue to coordinate and refine this program for 2014 so stay tuned over the coming weeks and months.

Our grantmaker education work has also been elevated over the past year. The Board established a permanent committee for grantmaker education this year and the committee has been hard at work developing and executing its work plan. Our immediate priorities: capturing the best programs done by RAs so that they can more easily be shared, adapted, and scaled, and ensuring that some of the existing educational assets such as ESS are known, used, and adapted by our membership. In particular, I want to recognize Joyce White for her leadership and Vicki Rosenberg for her able facilitation of this effort. I’m also pleased to report that LearnPhilanthropy has found a new, welcoming home at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State.

Over the past year there has been a lot of intense work around the launch of our KM platform. The KM Initiative now includes 23 organizations, up from 17 a year ago. While coordinating across so many organizations is no easy task, we have surmounted obstacles and found solutions together. Our co-investment model means that an RA’s modest financial contribution can be combined and leveraged and unlock more than $100,000 of advanced technology. Our challenge for the rest of the year is to complete the launch of RA sites and a new and improved site for the Forum. I’m excited to see our members and staff make the most of these powerful new tools for years to come. I want to thank the Tech Group, the KM Partners Group, and the KM Task Force, chaired by Marissa Manlove and Rob Collier, for their steady leadership and for bringing us to this point.

Our partnerships with colleagues in the field continue to strengthen as well and we remain committed to finding ways of combing our strengths to better serve grantmakers. Duplication of effort still remains but I see colleagues gaining a better understanding of what our network and members bring to the table. Organizationally the Forum is blessed by an active board, strong committees, and a dedicated and capable staff. I want to thank Tamara Copeland, Janet Henry, Joyce White, and Kathleen Odne for their amazing work through our Governance Committee and for identifying such capable new Board members to join us.

This time of year is also filled with a little sadness as we say thank you to our outgoing Board members: Janet Henry, Kathleen Odne, and Joyce White. You have been amazing, and speaking personally, thank you for being mentors to me. We also must thank our outgoing officers: Nina Stack as Chair and Tamara Copeland as Secretary. Our membership knows what amazing advocates you have been for our network and that we all have ownership for our common work. Thank you for your outstanding leadership.

I want to thank the staff. Mary, Courtney, Dan, and Val and our extended family—Erin and Vicki—for keeping the faith, for being flexible, and for working so damn hard, thank you.

Finally, a special thank you to the conference committee for having put together such a great program. Special thanks to Liz Wilder, our conference chair. Committee members, please stand to be recognized.

As we've heard and seen throughout this gathering, it is a time of tumultuous change in our field and our world. I am convinced, now more than ever, that the Forum Network is blazing an innovative path that will serve our members and the field well. And always remember this Network is you and your continued involvement is what makes us strong and uniquely positioned for impact.

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