Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Philanthropy is Love Made Visible: EPIP Sets the Tone for Next Generation Grantmakers

The Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) pre-conference opened May 2 at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference in Atlanta. EPIP's programming is especially designed for next generation grantmakers, aptly titled: Innovation and Legacy: The Place of the Next Generation in Philanthropy. Rusty Stahl, the Executive Director of EPIP (on Twitter @rustystahl) wrote a blog post about the rationale for the EPIP pre-conference in conjunction with the Council on Foundations Annual Conference on their Epiphanies blog. It was obviously a move in the right direction: the anticipation and energy was palpable in the room with about 75 young, dedicated grantmakers ready to learn about new and better ways of doing philanthropy to enable social change. It was great to see the level of racial diversity at the EPIP pre-conference with about half the room made up of people of color. It was also amazing to hear everyone expressing their passion for social justice and figuring out how philanthropy can support that.

Rusty Stahl outlined four goals for the pre-conference: training on the "soft skills" required for grantmaking, cutting-edge workshops, inter-generational dialogue and career support for the next generation of grantmakers. The opening plenary set the tone for the day and lifted up several themes exploring the kind of leadership we need to move philanthropy forward in the future.

Kathy Merchant, President of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation spoke to the group about her experience in nonprofits and philanthropy. Kathy said: "I wish I had had a next generation network like EPIP when I started out in my career. I hadn't even heard of the word 'philanthropy'." She lifted up the idea that place matters in philanthropy, that it has to be all about the community. Kathy reminded us that we should think about the "shape of things to come." The fact is that yesterday's strategies and structures won't be sufficient to address the new challenges facing us today. She urged the group to unleash our creative energy and passion to help the field progress. See a short video clip of Kathy's remarks below:

Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Council of Foundations Board Chair, also gave opening remarks. Ralph remarked how the EPIP next generation pre-conference had trumped the boundaries of geography, focus, and role. Attendees were not defining themselves by community foundations, family foundations small/large foundations, etc. Ralph said: "We have managed to install so many fences and so many boundaries, it is difficult for us to acheive our full potential in creating a field that can, in fact, find solutions to the challenges of our time." This quest for inter-generational learning might help us practice skills on transgressing the boundaries that keep us apart, trap us in "what we already know", and confine our imagination to "the possible." Ralph reminded us that the boundaries we see in philanthropy are not natural, and are not inherent. And whether they remain depends on our courage to develop the habits to move across those boundaries to become a collective, powerful force for change and for good. See a short video clip of Ralph's remarks below:

The table discussions afterward focused on ways to move beyond these unnatural constructs of philanthropy. What kind of reflective practice do next generation leaders need to have to find out how we can help remove those boundaries in our own philanthropic work? One of the dynamic ladies of color sitting next to me was Naomi Christine Leapheart (on Twitter @nachristine) who shared this powerful thought that stuck with me the entire day:
Good philanthropy is less about technical expertise than about that "something else." Part of it is creativity, partly boundary-crossing, partly your own life experiences. We, fundamentally, already have what we need to do this work. Philanthropy is really just about expressing our love for the community.
Jason Franklin, Deputy Director at 21st Century School Fund and board member at Resource Generation shared a good takeaway as well:
Young people have the freedom of not knowing what we "shouldn't" do, so we can freely imagine what's possible.
Everyone here seems so thoughtful about doing this work. Any Baby Boomer foundation executive in that room would have no doubt that the next generation is just as committed to the field and study of philanthropy as their older counterparts. It's so inspiring just to be here with all of these folks! I can say that just from today I'm even more fired up about doing my part to advance social justice through promoting the leadership of the next generation.

Cross-posted by Rosetta Thurman, blogging about nonprofits, leadership, and social change at www.rosettathurman.com. You can follow along with the entire Council on Foundations 2009 Annual Conference on Twitter using the search hashtag #cof09. Also check out Trista Harris' blog New Voices in Philanthropy for updates.

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