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State of the Forum Address 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014
On July 29th, the membership of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers met for our annual member meeting in San Diego, California. Forum CEO Michael Litz provided a "State of the Forum" address, a transcript of which is below.
In many ways this has been a watershed year in the evolution our network. We are coming to see ourselves as one integrated philanthropic network comprised of 34 regional associations of grantmakers with more than 5500 participating organizations, making us the largest network in American philanthropy. Our uniqueness, beyond our size, is that we have both deep regional and local roots and a broad nationwide reach. This is special and we have been unlocking ways of leveraging that uniqueness for the benefit of our members, our partners, and the field.
As you may recall from last year, our refreshed, network-orientated strategic 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.
Regional capacity is increasing. For example in PolicyWorks, we have witnessed a significant growth in the capacity of our members to do policy work. Now 28 RAs actively participate – not bad given that the project started some years back as a collaboration between a handful of regionals. We are looking forward to an exciting Institute immediately following this conference. I was to recognize Barbara Taylor and Adam Donaldson for leading the PolicyWorks Steering Committee so ably over the past year and for ensuring that topics that are being tackled are those that are most relevant to our members.
Our board-level policy and government relations 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 co-chairs—Rob Collier and David Biemesderfer. Thank you. Through their efforts the Forum has taken positions on key issues affecting the philanthropic sector. There were more regional delegations at this year’s Foundations on the Hill than ever before, conducting more than 250 visits to members of Congress.
Our grantmaker education work has also been elevated over the past year. Since the Forum Board established a permanent committee for grantmaker education last year, the committee has been hard at work developing new products such as the grantmaker education program directory and working on developing deeper brokered relationships with key organizations in the field. I want to recognize Janine Lee and Joyce White for their leadership and thank Vicki Rosenberg for her able facilitation of this effort. I’m also pleased about our deepening collaboration with LearnPhilanthropy, a project that was co-founded by the Forum, and which now has found a vibrant, welcoming home at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State. Michael Moody, LearnPhilanthropy’s leader, is with us today – welcome.
Over the past year there has been a lot of intense work around our KM platform with the launch of 13 regional sites and 6 standalone Salesforce systems in addition to a revamped Forum website. This initiative is one of the most successful and fastest growing programs in the Forum Network—participation has just about doubled in the last two years—in large part because of the spirit of this community. While coordinating across so many organizations is no easy task, we have hit our stride and streamlined our operations with the launch of the KM Committee, a Board-level group chaired by Marissa Manlove that now provides coordination and oversight of the many moving parts of this initiative. Thank you to all the KM leaders and participants for your efforts.
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 the philanthropic community everywhere. Duplication of effort still remains but I see many colleagues gaining a better understanding of what our network and members bring to the table.
I particularly pleased to announce today that our Board unanimously approved a framework agreement with the Foundation Center over the weekend that will help combine the trusted grassroots reach of regionals with the advanced data and tools of the Foundation Center. We have a large delegation from the Foundation Center with us this week, led by Larry McGill and Lisa Philps so I urge you to seek them out to find out more about this groundbreaking collaboration. It is a win-win for all and I hope that it will serve as a model for the field and our work with other colleague organizations.
Organizationally the Forum is blessed by an active and engaged board, strong committees, and a dedicated and capable staff. I want to especially thank Jeff Poulos, Tamara Copeland, Janine Lee and Laurel O’Sullivan for their work in the Governance Committee, for identifying such capable new Board members to join us, and for leading the bylaws revisions process this year.
I want to thank the staff. Mary, Courtney, Dan, and Val and our extended family—Erin and Vicki—for working so damn hard and doing so with a smile, thank you.
Finally, a special thank you to the conference committee for having put together such a great program. Special thanks to Marissa Theisen, our conference chair and the committee members. Please stand to be recognized.
The fact that in a few moments you will be voting on bylaw revisions that will make the Forum an independent publicly supported charity is a testament to the evolution of this unique community. As we will hear and see 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 - you are the network and the collaborative actions and decisions you make every day strengthens our collective. Thank you for your involvement, your efforts and your kindness and generosity towards others. Onwards and upwards! Thank you.
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