Thursday, December 18, 2008

Two Observations

At a recent meeting, DC EPIP members discussed the difficulties of managing an organization like ours in a city like DC. As a group of under-fortysomethings, we're getting established in our careers, taking on new professional obligations, finishing college, entering graduate school, having families, and more. In short, we're busy, busy, unbelievably busy people. That's not to say that other generations aren't busy. I can only assume that it just gets worse.

Add to the mix the transience of DC professionals. People are constantly coming and going. New opportunities take us to different places and back again.

It's a fast-moving, fluctuating membership of emerging leaders going places. Obviously, it's going to be tough to bring those people together. So we tried to come up with a new way of looking at the situation and a way of dealing with it:

Observation #1: When a leader leaves, celebrate. That's what we call a victory. If EPIP is about networking and professional development for emerging leaders, when an emerging leader gets an opportunity to lead through a promotion or a new job elsewhere, that's a victory. Yeah, it's going to be tough losing that leader to new responsibilities, but the organization should anticipate that. EPIP has to anticipate - at the very least, believe - in the possibility of its own success.

Observation #2: Go in pairs - at least. That means redundancy has to be built into everything we do. It means the buddy system. If only one person is heading up a program or event, that program or event is one scheduling conflict, one promotion, one job away from not happening. The Third Thursday lunches have survived leadership transitions and more because several wonderful people have taken it on. When one can't make it, another steps up. It's like a phalanx of gracious hostesses - and I get great lunches and great conversations because they scout for restaurants and send an invitation every month.

We work as a team. We work in teams. If one of us moves out, up, or on, we can celebrate with them because there's someone else to take up the tasks tomorrow. If we don't do this, we watch what we build disappear with the builders.

--Cross-posted from Capital Epiphanies

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good Question

Michael Seltzer contends that the "diversity" debate is not really about diversity but perhaps something greater:

What has transpired is an ongoing commitment by a group of large California foundations to address a key issue of our time -- the growing economic and social disparities affecting low-income and minority Americans, and the undercapitalized, community-based organizations that have been created in an attempt to make health care, education, and housing available and accessible to all Americans. The agreement struck by these California foundations invites the question: What would happen if all U.S. foundations agreed to put poverty alleviation and the elimination of economic and social disparities based on racial, ethnic, gender, and other differences on their agenda and allocated a portion of their grant dollars toward that end?

Since Mitch Nauffts says, "It's an excellent question -- and one that more foundations should be asking themselves," I'll take a stab at a response.

Indeed, what would happen if all U.S. foundations agreed to put poverty alleviation and the elimination of economic and social disparities based on racial, ethnic, gender, and other differences on their agenda and allocated a portion of their grant dollars toward that end?

Well, what would you call a contractual arrangement by which a portion of our collective resources are devoted to public ends? I could have sworn there were words for these things.

Kevin, I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like taxes and, you know, like, a government.

Kevin, I think you're right.


I've noticed two broad critiques of the independent sector.

The first tends to come from the business sector. Nonprofits need to cut administrative costs, streamline processes, and pursue earned income strategies. They need to define goals, measure results, and determine impact. If we only applied lessons learned in the business world about how to run a successful organization, the nonprofit sector would be much more successful.

The second critique is that leveled by critics in the diversity debate. Certain populations are short-changed by philanthropy, a problem that would be alleviated if philanthropy committed to giving certain amounts to society's most vulnerable and if more members of these populations were included in philanthropic decisionmaking. Philanthropy should involve and represent the public it supposedly serves.

Basically, philanthropies should act more like businesses -- except when they should act more like our democratic government. Indeed, things would be so much better for everybody if the philanthropic sector acted more like the other sectors.

You know, I'm all for a more effective and accountable sector, but I think things would be so much better for everybody if we stopped asking philanthropy to do the work of the other sectors.

As if the other sectors are such exemplars! Since when are business and government in any position to criticize philanthropy?

Nonprofit should act like businesses? Which ones? Our airlines and our record companies whose failed business models are somehow my problem? Our insurance companies that make up the rules as they go along? Our nation's lenders who thought that making bad loans, repackaging that debt, and selling it to others was good business? We have businesses that deceive and bilk consumers, employees, and shareholders, and leave the American people to pick up the tab. I'm all for streamlining nonprofit practice, but God help us all if nonprofits act like some of today's businesses.

And don't get me started on the government. Regardless of your political affiliation, I think we can agree that American government has become by and large a spectator sport. We're entitled to an opinion every two years at most. It's government of, by, and for somebody else because it sure doesn't seem like it's of, by, and for anybody most of us know.

The reply to any Congressperson who dares question philanthropy's commitment to the poor and vulnerable in this country should be simple: what have you done lately? Seltzer imagines a philanthropic sector that puts "poverty alleviation and the elimination of economic and social disparities based on racial, ethnic, gender, and other differences on their agenda." Why not imagine a government that does that?

And there we get to the real issue: why are we turning to philanthropy for these things? Behind the desire for a more effective, accountable philanthropic sector is the desire for a more effective private sector, a more accountable public sector. But so alienated are we from the market and political forces that affect our lives, we hold philanthropy responsible. The diversity debate, as Seltzer says, really is more about "health care, education, and housing" than it is about diversity, but should we imagine foundations banding together to solve these problems?

What if more businesses banded together to develop sustainable energy technologies with the same creativity that some show in creating new ways to hide debt? What if more businesses created products that met real needs with the same energy some of them show in manufacturing fleeting wants?

What if members of both parties banded together to reforge a government that represented everyone? What if fighting poverty was back on their agenda?

What if the other sectors started pulling their own weight? What would philanthropy do then?

Because these are good questions, too, ones that more foundations should be asking themselves.

Monday, July 14, 2008

EPIP's Quarterly Newsletter

We have a list of ideas and updates to include that we generated in the national office - do you have an idea or an article that you would like to include? If so, post your comments here today!

Friday, June 27, 2008

"What's your vision of philanthropy...?"

At May's Council on Foundations Philanthropy Summit, next generation leaders gathered at a party no one at the Council had ever seen or expected: Philanthropy 2.0. Event sponsors 21/64, American Express, The Case Foundation, Changemakers, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, the Goldhirsh Foundation, the John and James L. Knight Foundation, Jewish Funders Network, Resource Generation, and the Third Wave Foundation, brilliantly transformed one of the Gaylord Hotel's meeting rooms into a club: DJ, lights, couches, bar, the whole deal. All around the room were tables introducing club-goers to important next generation leadership groups and computer kiosks featuring the latest online resources.

For a few hours, it was the unauthorized concurrent session I'd been waiting for - only with music. It was my new Resource Central - only with traffic. Maybe it's just that they had the bass turned up, but I could feel things shift ever so slightly under our feet. And at Resource Generation's area, I got to tell them where I thought things were shifting.

If you happened to stop by the Resource Generation table, you were asked, "What's your vision of philanthropy? What does Philanthropy 2.0 mean to you?" You slashed your answer into a piece of paper and posed smiling for the waiting digital camera.

The folks at Resource Generation compiled the photos for Youtube here: Visions of Philanthropy: A Photo Project by Resource Generation (hey, who disabled the embed?).

That's my ugly mug with the sign that reads: "The Aristocracy of Everyone."

I pilfered the phrase from Benjamin Barber and his defense of public education as preparing young people for citizenship.

Philanthropy can sometimes seem like the last remnant of aristocracy. It's something other people - usually very rich people, their children, and close advisors - get to do.

Philanthropy is about privilege - but that privilege, the honor and joy of giving, can be shared. Philanthropy is about nobility - but the nobility belongs to anyone who donates time, talent, and treasure and, with his or her fellow citizens, helps create the world they want to live in. If philanthropy is an aristocracy, at least it's an "Aristocracy of Everyone."

"What's your vision of philanthropy?"

Send Mike at Resource Generation your own pictures or leave a note in the comments.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Saving the World in Study Hall, NY Times OpEd from Sunday

This OpEd piece by Nicholas Kristof was especially appropriate after last week's Council on Foundations' Summit. Kristof's blog highlights some options for student activist work. These topics are on my mind often these days not only because of the Summit (where EPIP really rocked the house), but as we head into the presidential elections, with Obama as a potential presidential nominee who recognizes the potential of the next generation of leaders.

**more on the millenials, the issues they face and how this manifests into their politics here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

EPIP and New Voices of Philanthropy have joint COF conference coverage. Check on some of the great posts covering the action.

Dispatches from the COF Conference by Trista Harris, New Voices of Philanthropy

Philanthropy 2.0 coverage by Brittany Buckingham, Gates Foundation

Leadership for the New Generation and What's in Your Mission? from Jasmine Hall Ratliff, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

A New Generation of Foundation CEOs by Athena Adkins, Travelers Foundation

I am Next Gen from Trista Harris, New Voices of Philanthropy

How Media Impacts Life Outcomes of Black Men and Boys by Tracey, Black Gives Back

Social Justice Philanthropy, Where is the Movement? from Melissa Johnson, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Jollification in the Caribbean from Trista Harris, New Voices of Philanthropy

Monday, May 05, 2008

Live from Philanthropy 2.0...

with Nora Burton, Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation
and winner of $20 Good Card for Network for Good, soon to be going to PAWS!

The best event/meeting/moment so far:
I got a Next Generation Scholarship to come here. I'm staying in somebody else's room to be here. I just feel really supported by the community. It's not only more established leaders supporting the next generation, it's the next generation supporting the next generation.

And I just get inspired by seeing all these leaders, wondering what I can do to step it up.

What does Philanthropy 2.0 mean to you?
To be honest, the idea of 2.0 is new to me. It's crazy. TechSoup, Second Life. Is it fun? Is it work? It's crazy.
Linetta J. Gilbert, senior program officer at the Ford Foundation, 2008 recipient of the Robert W. Scrivner Award, and founding supporter of EPIP, takes the stage to say a few words:

"When Rusty first approached me and asked about an affinity group for young people, I was certain of the need but not sure of who would come--this is truly a blessing to see everyone here, so turn the music back up. We're just so proud to be a supporter."
Live from Philanthropy 2.0...

Amid the lights and sounds of a session hall turned dance club, the next generation of philanthropists assembles to celebrate a revolution in giving: Philanthropy 2.0. With my back to the speakers, I'm reminded of the maxim attributed to Emma Goldman:

A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.
Live from Philanthropy 2.0...

with Chandler Bazemore, Northstar Fund

The best event/meeting/moment so far:
I think it’s this. This is the end of the day. Let’s relax and have a good time.

What does Philanthropy 2.0 mean to you?
It’s really about taking it to the next level. Our parents were 1.0. The next generation is 2.0.
Live from Philanthropy 2.0...

with Crystal Dundas, Wachovia Regional Foundation

The best event/meeting/moment so far:
I really enjoyed hearing Sherece West. Having gone through being a leader at a young age, she was so very genuine.

I also liked the lunch plenary today. One thing I would like to see is quality education talked about as a human right.

What a scene? Has the Council on Foundation ever seen neon lights, disco balls and lots and lots and lots of laptops? NO. This year has bene a real important showing of Next Generation reps, voices and passions... And, how Rusty Stahl, Executive Director at Emerging practitioners in Philanthropy really knows how to really 'MC'..! This is an incredibly inspiring experience for me-- in particular--being a first attendee at a COF Summit. I feel welcomed and wanted, and I feel like at age 21, I really know that this is the place, and the field, and the community for me. I am meeting my partners and my peers and being thoroughly inspired along the way by the Baby Boomers and the Traditionalists of the field. Its a melding of ideas and tactics and tools. And, the ham-bloggers and Next Gen-tini drinks dont harm, right?

Everyone enjoy. Its not everyday that this kind of community comes together under the umbrella of iPods and Flat Screen TVs...
Live from Philanthropy 2.0...

The best event/meeting/moment so far:
"The luncheon plenary really broadened the debate around human rights. The call to action to think more strategically around human rights, the kinds of partnerships we want to build, was inspirational. The chicken lunch--not so much..."
Live from Philanthropy 2.0...

with Lindsay McClung, Rosamond Gifford Charitable Corporation

The best event/meeting/moment so far:
"Philanthropy 2.0 and I’m not just saying that. It’s not that I don’t feel welcomed. It’s just doesn’t grab my attention. I need something that I can actually apply. I feel like it’s just talk sometimes. It’s so top-down sometimes. It doesn’t grab me. I need more applied knowledge—examples of what other places are doing."

What does Philanthropy 2.0 mean to you?
"A new way to transfer knowledge"
Live from Philanthropy 2.0

...with Melissa Johnson, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

The best event/meeting/moment so far:
"The session on Next Generation CEOs...varying perspectives, all hopeful and connected to the conversation about leadership.

What does Philanthropy 2.0 mean to you?
"energy, fresh perspectives, change on the fast track"
I blinked and the first day of the COF Summit passed by me. Milano Harden summed up the day well when he said at the EPIP late-evening gathering that it was at once "overwhelming and like a homecoming." At the first COF annual conference I attended in 2005, people were so excited that emerging leaders filled a table of 10 and tonight no less than 90 people cycled through the EPIP late-evening gathering. The Summit is being held at the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor, Maryland (check out a map here - yes, even cab drivers here don't know where it is exactly).

EPIP, Resource Generation and 21/64 organized a Generational Leadership track of programs that, if the first day is any indicator, will indeed provide insight into the challenges and opportunities that the sector faces in the next few years, energize both ends of the spectrum to continue to talk about these issues and serve to provide a forum for identifying next steps for our field. Read about one EPIP emerging leader salon at the New Voices of Philanthropy blog. New Voices also has a blog about how Media affects young black men, a session coordinated by the Association of Black Foundation Executives.

Tactical Philanthropy provides insight into how other attendees here at the Summit are thinking about philanthropy, including as a result of a Super Shuttle ride from the airport.

Enjoy the links to other blogs and stay tuned for more. For those not at the conference, email jen (at) epip (dot) org and let us know what you want to know more about from the Council on Foundations' Summit!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hi everyone,

The Summit - and the generational leadership program track within it - is upon us, and i want to thank Trista Harris and everyone else who volunteered to blog on this site and on New Voices of Philanthropy!

Along with Taij (Resource Generation) and Sharna (21/64), I am guest blogging on Tactical Philanthropy to cover the Summit, so check that out as well (a post from me went up today about how the Summit will attempt to "flatten" the Foundation world ala Tom Friedman).

I believe this Summit will usher in the beginning of a new inter-generational era in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. The issue of enerational change in have been simmering - the conversation is everywhere in the nonprofit world, but funders are just beginning to get their heads around it, and to gear strategies and grants to address.

Monday, April 28, 2008

New Voices of Philanthropy and Emerging Practitioner’s in Philanthropy’s blog EPIPhanies will be providing extensive coverage of the COF conference from the perspective of next generation leaders. We have assembled a great team of bloggers including: Athena Adkins, Brittany Buckingham, and Gali Cooks, but we are still looking for additional writers especially individuals that were selected for Next Gen Scholarships. You can write about one session or all that you attend but we are really looking for a variety of perspectives of the conference. Blogging at the conference is a great way to give back to the field and is a fabulous way for you to raise your visibility as an up and coming leader (and get access to some of the quick to fill up Next Gen sessions). The team is filling up quickly so contact me at tristaharris (at) gmail (dot) com if you are interested.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Council on Foundations' Summit is in two weeks!

EPIP led the creation of the Generational Leadership Program at the Summit. This will be a ground-breaking conference, and the Generational Leadership Program will be an incredible and unique opportunity for EPIP members and other emerging leaders to connect to each other, dialogue with esteemed foundation CEOs, and bring emerging voices to the Summit! Be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime event!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Check out the Case Foundation's recruitment email for its method of choosing grantees:

I just voted in the Make It Your Own Awards and now my favorite charity has a chance to earn $2,500 for its cause. You should vote too! It's all part of a great program that supports some of the coolest community-building projects I've ever seen -- just by us voting online!

The Case Foundation (the program's sponsor) has just announced the Top 20 finalists. And it's up to us online voters to decide which of these great ideas make it to the Final Four ... and receive $25,000 to help make their dream a reality.

And the Foundation is giving a $2,500 Good Card to the first 10 people to correctly pick the Final Four grantees! The money can be used to make donations to any U.S.-based charity.

So head over to the ballot to make YOUR picks, and read all these awesome stories firsthand. Thanks for your support, and remember -- keep spreading the word!

Watch the promo video, too.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rusty and I had a great conversation with Brittany from Seattle and Kevin from Boston - cities with an emerging chapter and an established chapter, respectively. We talked about the relationships between foundation officials and non-profits mostly. One idea we talked about was if foundations are transparent about strategies and missions, then much of the power-dynamic awkwardness would be solved. Have you had successful relationships with grantees? What were the characteristics of those relationships?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Every day brings us a little bit closer to the Council on Foundation's national conference in DC on May 4-7, and I, for one, am very excited. I know that the words excitement and conference don't usually go together. Convention halls filled with people twice your age with less than half an interest in anything that you have to say is not usually how you might like to spend your out-of-town time but this conference promises to be different. So today I bring you the top 10 reasons why the Philanthropy Summit is going to be the best four professional development days of 2008:

  1. Thanks to the hard work of EPIP, RG, and 21/64 there will be a whole conference track devoted to generational issues (a COF first)
  2. There will be Emerging Leaders Salons which give you an opportunity to have engaging discussions with philanthropy's greatest thinkers like Luz Vega-Marquis (Marguerite Casey Foundation) and Susan V. Berresford (recently retired from Ford Foundation).
  3. There will be an Emerging Leader Reception and I don't want to raise any hopes here, but last year this fabulous event included a macaroni and cheese bar, where you picked your own toppings. This has to be the most innovative thing that has happened to food since the creation of macaroni and cheese.
  4. Right in the exhibition hall there will be a Next Gen lounge where you can get great resources and meet new colleagues from across the country.
  5. EPIP will have a hosted suite in the conference hotel where you can relax with new friends and have some refreshments, instead of the normal evening conference activity of watching Discovery Channel alone in your hotel room.
  6. A Generational Leadership Program Facebook Group has been created. I will admit that I have already hooked my proverbial online social networking wagon to LinkedIn but if you are already Facebook proficient or can even handle more than one social networking site, I commend your multitasking skills and this Facebook group is meant for you.
  7. There are opportunities for you to blog about the programs at the COF conference for New Voices of Philanthropy and EPIPhanies. You can write about one session or ten to provide valuable information to our colleagues nationally and internationally who aren't able to attend the conference. Just contact me at tristaharris (at) gmail (dot) com to get set up.
  8. There will be Next Gen scholarships available to cover registration costs, which will bring many new philanthropy professionals to the conference that might not otherwise be able to attend.
  9. We will be one of the first groups to use the Gaylord Conference center, which is a beautiful new facility that many groups will be using for their conferences, so the next time you have something scheduled there you will already be an old pro.
  10. The biggest reason why I am so excited to go to the conference is because I will be able to meet many of this blog's readers for the first time in person. I think online communities are fabulous and I truly appreciate the great conversations that happen on this blog but there is nothing like meeting people face to face. So if you see me in the Next Gen lounge or if you come to the session where I am presenting, come say hi. I can't wait to meet you.

Trista Harris is Chair of EPIP-MN and Chief Blogger at New Voices of Philanthropy.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Good Advice for Breaking into Foundation Work?

What meaningful (and not totally pessemistic) advice ought one offer to young professionals seeking foundation grantmaking work?

I encourage Epiphanies followers to read Your Invitations in the Mail! and post responses!

I am referring to the latest post at the New Voices Of Philanthropy blog. Guest writer and sometime EPIP participant Allyson Reaves (already an accomplished alum of the CUNY Philanthropy Fellowship) offers a hilarious - but seriously important - perspective on the challenges of carving out career paths in philanthropy.

P.S. I know for sure that I wasn't the "Mr. Advancemeplease" to whom Allyson refers!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Search any philanthropy blog or do aGoogle search for GiveWell, and you will find a firestorm of comments, critiques, give-and-takes, and back-and-forth in the philanthropy blogging "community".

Apparently the co-founding executive of GiveWell -- the latest and greatest effort to rank and rate nonprofits -- was caught anonymously promoting his group through blog comments, and denigrating competitive groups such as CharityNavigator. (He apparently left anonymous comments and questions on blogs, then responded anonymously to them, and highly rating his own answer, etc.).

I am not even going to offer links to all this, because it is very redundant, difficult to digest, and you can find it yourself if you want to spend your time that way.

So why am I even bringing it up?

Because the important core questions are buried by the broiling controversy.

They are: Does it make sense to rate and rank nonprofits? If so, to what end? And what is the appropriate way to do so?

Understanding and "judging" nonprofit organizations is a more nuanced and complex effort than purely examining financial documents, establishing a formula for the correct amount spent on "overhead", etc.

On the other hand, the web does enable easier access to more information than previously available. For example, Guidestar makes the tax returns (form 990) of nonprofit readily available, where paper copies previously had to be requested on an individual basis.

The GiveWell approach apparently attempts to go beyond pure numbers, using grants as "bait" to find out as much as possible about groups, and then award grants to those they regard as the "best".

Subjectivity, Social Capital, and Proximity

The vast number of nonprofits alone means that subjectivity, social capital amongst funders and nonprofit leaders, and proximity all play important and valuable roles in deciding who gets what.
This negative side of this: Those who have the social capital win; those with less access are left out. The less equitable the socio-economic situation is, the less equitable the sector is.

The positive side of this: Social capital is a liquid asset. People and organizations can be upwardly mobile in a marketplace based on relationships, trust, etc.


In the for-profit world, it is best practice to create a brand and aura around a company, and to grow demand for a product that many not have been previously needed. Marketing strategies appeal to base human instincts (jealousy, sex appeal, desire to be wanted, etc) to fuel sales - even when a product has absolutely nothing to do with the attractive person on the billboard. This is accepted as fine, as long as customers go along for the ride, and the product or company behaviour does not betray the image.

While the capitalist system is supposedly built on the rationale choice of individual consumers, the secret hiding in plane view is that the market does everything it can do steer us away from rationality, so that we rely on instinct and feeling. Heart rules over head.

Well, my friends, I am afraid to say that nonprofits - where the heart really belongs at play - subjectivity also plays a critical role.

If we were to be completely rationale in making choices, donors and foundations would have to rank each and every possible worthy cause before deciding on about 3-5 focus areas. Instead, the personal history, values, politics and passions of donors drive them to identify issues and organizations that are meaningful to them.

Social Capital

One common saying in philanthropy: we don't fund an organization, we fund a leader. The relationships, trustworthiness, experience, politics, reputation (at large, with peers, with other funders, etc.), likability, of any given nonprofit leader can influence and sway donor and funder views.


The vast and ever-growing number and variety of organizations in the nonprofit sector, combined with the general provincial nature of philanthropic giving, means that proximity matters. Social capital tends to have a relationship with "place" of one sort or another as well.

Of course the web, air travel, the demise of long-distance rates via cell phones, and other factors help to mitigate the limited nature of place. However, organized philanthropic giving on the whole remains locally-driven by high-touch, low-tech people and processes.

Just answer this question: which fundraising strategy is more likely to be successful: sending out 100 copies of the same proposal to 100 funders (with the only change in the name and address), or meeting in-person two times each with ten funders? Why did you answer the way you did?

The vastness also means that nonprofits are always changing - new start-ups and grassroots groups are created, while great executives leave existent groups or they simply become less relevant for some reason. This is a very "liquid" field, like the earth itself, constantly shifting, evolving, changing. Try to find rate and rank sand castles. By the time you go to print, the whole scene has changed.

Given all these factors, I question the critical value of ranking and rating nonprofits.

One additional note:

Given the fact that GiveWell was created by two Wall Streeters, perhaps their poor performance will take some of the wind out of the sails of those who believe that the magic bullet solution to the nonprofit sector's human resources and leadership needs are to important management from the business world.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Generational Change: The Undiscussed Identity-Politics of the 2008 Election?

Happy New Year, everyone! Given the interesting twists and turns of the poilitical campaign, I thought I want to focus this post on how generational matters are playing out in the election. Please note that this post is not partisan and does not endorse any candidate.

Politicians from three of the four living generations are battling it out for the White House.

  • Senator John McCain joked that he is far from being a kid. Perhaps he fits more closely in the mold of the Greatest Generation.
  • Senator Hillary Clinton encapsulates the Baby Boomer political activist, and Governor Mike Hukabee plays light '60s tunes with his rock band.
  • Senator Barack Obama, who just made it into Generation X, is pulling on the energy of his generation and the Millennials (Generation Y) who are now students.His website even includes a group called Generation Obama.
The campaign fought between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in '92 -- followed by the contest between Bob Dole and Mr. Clinton in 1996 -- signified the struggle of Baby Boomers to take ultimate political power from the hands of the Greatest Generation. Today, the challenge Obama has mounted against Mrs. Clinton symbolizes Generation X making a play for further generational change in the White House.

One must wonder, as with all things generational: How much is the "inexperience" argument about Obama, being used by the Clinton campaign, a veiled generational jab? Will Baby Boomers never trust anyone under 60?

In a political blog piece dubbed Escape from Camelot, Matt Bai notes that some Baby Boomers have compared Obama to one or another Kennedy. Granted, it is human nature to look for comparison of today's leaders with those from the past. Yet Bai describes something less healthy beneath these analogies:
I was born about three months after Robert Kennedy’s death, so I’ll probably never understand what it is about the Kennedy legend that seems to have suspended Democrats of a certain generation in a specific moment in time, as stuck in their frame of reference as an insect in amber. Every four years, it seems, since I first became aware of politics, Democrats have been trying to transform someone into a Kennedy, almost always with disappointing results...

There’s something unhealthy about all this Baby-Boomer reminiscing, because it forces Democrats always to look backward, to serve some unrealized ideal of government rather than a more modern and relevant vision of what government might become. There is a faint line between nostalgia and delusion, and with each passing year, those liberals who long for the reincarnation of their heroes seem ever closer to obliterating it.
Perhaps many political battles today witness liberals and progressives trying to complete the unfulfilled social change agenda(s) of the 1960s, and conservatives working diligently to roll-back these changes to return to the more traditional ways of the 1950s. The past ideological battles and bruises of the Baby Boomers remain their reference point for current goals and strategies.

This battle is waged within the philanthropy community as well. Individual donors and program officers, foundations, and associations have staked-out "political" positions (with a lower-case "p"), utilizing means such as grants, conferences and research publications to advocate for politically-loaded agendas such as funding the school vouchers movement on the right, or supporting community organizing in marginalized communities on the left, as examples.

In politics, philanthropy, and other spheres, Boomer politics leave emerging generations with the intertwined challenges of forming responses to the Baby Boomers (such sharing in or rejecting their nostalgia), and creating their own visions, strategies and approaches to improving society. There is much talk today about how emerging leaders bring technological savvy to political campaigns and to the philanthropic workplace. Online communities and cell phone communications didnt exist when Baby Boomers hashed out their original battles, so htese become a realm that Generation X and Y can claim as their own to some extent.

Yet a narrow focus on technology leaves two important questions unaddressed:
  • How do the emerging generations define their own visions and strategies for society?
  • And how do these new generations create a healthy relationship with the generations on whose shoulders we stand, rather than remaining in unhealthily relations with them (choosing to either defer to, or rebel from, theBaby Boomers and Greatest Generation)?
Given EPIP's mission of advancing social justice philanthropy, a third question comes to mind, borrowing from Bai's critique of Boomer politics:
  • How do we craft 'a more modern and relevant vision' of what social justice philanthropy might become, rather than serve a backward-looking, 'unrealized ideal'?
In the political arena, perhaps politicians such as Barack Obama (there are numerous Gen Xers running for political office at the local, state and federal levels) offer us a clue. He seems to be able to attract an inter-generational base of supporters. And his campaign has utilized the more holistic approach of Generation X and Y in its efforts to create something more holistic that crosses ideological, racial, and geographic barriers.

I believe it is still difficult to answer the questions I have posed. It seems to me that Generation X is still in a state of reaction to the Baby Boomer. Perhaps our Millennial friends are less "in the shadow" of the Boom, and are more able to define a new path. Or perhaps Generation X can be the bridge that brings the best legacies of previous generations to the needed innovations ahead. And who knows what the generations yet-to-come will add to the mix. Only time can tell.

I simply hope that as leaders from these diffenrent generations battle it out for control -- whether it's in politics, philanthropy, nonprofits, or elsewhere -- that we maintain healthy respect for our differences.