Throughout the fall conference, I had been prefacing every comment or question, every new introduction, with “I’m brand new, only six weeks in as a program officer.” I heard many others, too, more than I expected, who are only a few months, or, in several cases, a few days into the incredible (and exciting and overwhelming) world of community foundations. The plenaries, the sessions, and especially the colleagues at our tables from all across the country were our education this week.
I started saying “I’m brand new” to mean “I don’t know anything yet,” but perhaps instead of apologizing for my lack of direct experience in a community foundation, I should have used “I’m brand new” to mean “I believe anything is possible.” I thought I would leave the conference with a better understanding of the rules of community foundations, the way things have worked and should work for grantmaking and community engagement and donor relations (and I have), but I also can’t stop thinking about what could be. As Gabriel Pastor brilliantly stated at Tuesday morning’s plenary on “What’s Next for Community Philanthropy,” there is no business model for community foundations. There is only what we have made it, and what we, as individual community foundations working in our unique communities, continue to make it as we face new issues, new challenges, and new opportunities.
The world is in constant transformation. We are in constant transformation. And it’s the dozens of us who are new to the field that need to temper meeting the mold and expectations of our roles with the fearlessness to bring new ideas to the table and expand what it means to be the foundation of a community. We need to continue challenging orthodoxies such as “the community comes to us, not vice versa” and “money is our most important asset” as we return home because, well, aren’t people the core of our work? Aren’t people, both us as staff and the community—the citizens—we serve, the reason the important work gets done?
On the precipice of the centennial of community foundations next year, we all can be brand new. Every day is an opportunity for fearlessness, for redefining our roles in the communities we love.