This year's fall conference plenary sessions began with a look at what the future holds for community foundations and ended with a much broader survey of the world economy. In between, awards were presented to deserving recipients, First Lady Michelle Obama asked for increased support of our nation's military families, best-selling author Jeff Jarvis amazed everyone with his boundless energy, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised attendees' dedication to education reform.
Monday's opening plenary session, "Somewhere Over the Horizon ... for Community Foundations," started off with a "hearty Charlotte welcome" from the city's mayor, Anthony Foxx
(pictured at right). He also talked about the difference the conference host, Foundation For The Carolinas, has made for many of the city's citizens through its Critical Need Response Fund—which provides urgently needed funds to pay for, among other things, rent and utilities—and other programs like the Teen Impact Fund and the Impactful Fund for Emerging Philanthropists.
Carleen K. Rhodes
, president and CEO of the Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation
and the session's moderator, told attendees that her foundation "needed to make some bold moves to stay relevant" because of the competition community foundations now face from a plethora of new giving options for donors. One of those bold moves led to the creation of GiveMN.org, an innovative community fundraising and giving site on the Razoo.com platform. Rhodes noted that GiveMN’s kickoff promotion, Give to the Max Day, raised an incredible $14 million in 24 hours.
GiveMN’s Give to the Max Day raised an incredible $14 million on-line in 24 hours
Founder Charles Best
(pictured at right) said his organization allows donors to "support local school classrooms in a vivid and empowering way." He shared a story about a message he recently received from a woman interested in giving a major gift. When Best returned her call, she asked how much money was needed to fund all of the teacher requests in California; three days later, DonorsChoose.org received a check for that exact amount: $1.3 million. The best part of DonorsChoose.org, Best said, is that it allows people with $10, $100—even $1.3 million—to "become part of the giving process [and support] the imagination and innovation your teachers are bringing to bear."
Every conference attendee was able to participate in the DonorsChoose.org experience thanks to $100 gift cards underwritten by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Many attendees used them immediately at the DonorsChoose.org booth located in Community Central. People used their time waiting in line at the booth to chat with Best and other members of his team.
$100 gift card for every conference attendee! Underwritten by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the cards enabled participation in DonorsChoose.org
Donors "are looking to us to provide a roadmap for giving," according to Chris Page
, senior vice president, donor services for Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
(RPA). That's why he thinks it is so important to act like a "philanthropic GPS" system and recalculate often to help donors make the right choices. He says by doing that, RPA has been able to orchestrate gifts totaling $250 million in 22 countries during the past year.
The final speaker on the panel, Monitor Institute
Vice President, Client Services, Barbara Kibbe
(pictured at right), talked about a recent report, "What's Next for Philanthropy," which details 10 behaviors that help foundations to "act bigger and adapt better" in today's increasingly networked world. They include picking the right tools for the job, activating networks, leveraging others' resources, knowing what works (and what doesn't), keeping pace with change, and taking smart risks. She said foundations also need to focus on best practices and next practices, top-down control and bottom-up letting go, analysis, and creativity in order to take their operations to the next level.
The idea for the Community Information Challenge (CIC)—which was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
to help community foundations meet local information needs—originated three years ago at the 2007 Fall Conference for Community Foundations in San Francisco. Now fast forward three years, to another fall conference in a different city, as the Knight foundation's president and CEO, Alberto Ibargüen
(pictured at right), announces the 19 latest winners of the CIC during his luncheon plenary speech on Monday.
include the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Hawaii Community Foundation, the New York Community Trust, and the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, and The Seattle Foundation. Their work, according to Ibargüen, "helps residents have the information they need to make important decisions about their communities."
"All 19 winners are part of a growing movement of community and place-based foundations funding news and information projects," said Trabian Shorters, the Knight Foundation's vice president for communities, in a blog post
. He also noted that the foundation will begin accepting applications in January for the next round of CIC grants.
Monday's luncheon plenary (see previous section) featured a video welcome from First Lady Michelle Obama
, who urged attendees to "connect your work with the priorities of our military families." Less than 24 hours later, at Tuesday's breakfast plenary session, the California Community Foundation's Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund
(IADIF) received the Council's 2010 Critical Impact Award for doing exactly what the First Lady outlined.
Three Texas-based partners—the Dallas, Permian Basin Area, and San Antonio Area foundations—shared the award, which recognizes IADIF's groundbreaking efforts to help returning soldiers. As IADIF Director Nancy Berglass noted in her acceptance speech, "Warriors do not come home to federal agencies. They come home to communities and families" and need help reintegrating successfully into their lives.
"Warriors do not come home to federal agencies. They come home to communities and families."
After saluting the Critical Impact Award winners, Council on Foundations President and CEO Steve Gunderson
used lessons learned from the automotive industry of his youth to illustrate some important realities in community philanthropy. He also spoke of the Council’s work with community foundations, including its mission to explain on Capitol Hill the vital role of community foundations in building strong communities.
Terry Mazany, chair of the Community Foundation Leadership Team, spoke after Steve and recapped highlights of CFLT work over the past three years.
Another highlight of that plenary session
was the unveiling of the Community Foundation Leadership Team's "Centennial Plan: Strategies for a Strong Community Foundation Field 2011-2014," featuring feedback from 320 community foundation practitioners. The plan
includes four broad goals—field building, legislative and regulatory support, community leadership, and brand building—focused "on strengthening the collaborative field of community foundations and promoting a philanthropic environment supportive of our work."
As Teri A Hansen
(pictured at right), president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice
and conference co-chair, noted during her introductory remarks: "Together we can accomplish what no single one of us can do alone." Carolyn Torgersen, vice president for marketing and communications at Community Foundation of the Lowcountry
, said in a blog post
that the plan also "looks to recognize successes, support the professional development of our staffs and boards, and help to deliver local value to all communities."
As the attendees at Tuesday's luncheon plenary session quickly learned, Jeff Jarvis
(pictured at right) has a lot of energy. Jarvis—professor, consultant, and author of the best-seller, "What Would Google Do?"—did not use a lectern to deliver his remarks; instead, he paced back and forth across the large stage and talked about changes that "are profound and fundamental and bigger than we ever imagined," such as the creation of Google, Facebook, Craigslist, and other online platforms. And during a robust question and answer session, he jogged around the standing-room-only ballroom to address each of the questioners personally.
Jarvis said that community foundations, which he called "agents of leverage, of bringing people together," are the perfect example of his "1 percent rule." As he explained, only a small percentage of people and organizations do things, "but what they do is amazing." He noted that the key to being an active and successful member of society is recognizing what you have to offer and doing whatever you can do to leverage those strengths—something he believes community foundations do very well.
He also talked about links, describing them as "incredibly powerful little things" that change the world. Because links "allow you to specialize, demand that you specialize," he urged everyone in the room to "do what you do best and link to the rest."
During Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
's introductory remarks at Wednesday's much-anticipated breakfast plenary session—as well as throughout the question-and-answer session with Boston Public Schools Superintendant Carol Johnson
(pictured at right, with Duncan) that followed—he often used the words "sense of urgency" and "hugely important" when talking about our country's education system and the work community foundations are doing to help improve it.
As he noted early on, "the stakes have never been higher" to make sure that every child in America graduates from college. We need to do "whatever it takes" to make sure that happens, he said, including creating more AP classes and extracurricular activities that encourage students to stay in school for the long haul.
Secretary Duncan said that community foundations' "ability to make schools the heart of our communities is hugely important."
The secretary also talked about the role community foundations play in those efforts—explaining that their "ability to make schools the heart of our communities is hugely important."—and urged attendees "to stay with this work for the long haul ... The good ideas are never going to come from us in Washington. They're always going to come from the local level ... 90 percent of education funding will always be at the state and local levels."
Johnson also praised the role of community foundations, noting that "the work you do certainly improves the quality of live and makes it possible for us to do more than we would be able to do otherwise."
Because the session took place one day after the national primary elections, the first question Duncan received was about that very subject. And he was not reticent about expressing his opinions about two specific races: Adrian Fenty's defeat in the D.C. mayoral race and Mike Castle's loss in the Delaware Republican Senate primary. He called Castle's loss was "a devastating blow" and said he was "deeply disappointed" to see Fenty lose in the nation's capital; both men, he added, are strong proponents of education reform.
Newsweek Senior Editor Daniel Gross
(pictured at right) is one of the country's most widely read economic and financial writers. So after attendees of Wednesday's closing plenary session finished their lunch, they turned their full attention to Gross' take on today's economic situation. The news was generally positive: while he admitted the United States still has long way to go, he truly believes it soon will be "better, stronger, faster."
Gross admits that he is an optimist—as evidenced by the titles of two of his Newsweek cover stories: "I Want You to Start Spending" in March 2009 and "America's Back: The Remarkable Tale of our Economic Turnaround" in April of this year. Although "the bad stuff out there isn't a figment of everyone's imagination," he still believes that things aren't as bad as they seem.
The title of Gross' latest book is "Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation," so it was no surprise to anyone in the audience when he said "the last person you should ask is an economist" when you have questions about the economy. Here's his advice for improving things: "We have to get better about integrating ourselves into foreign markets. We also have to get more comfortable with foreign companies operating here. We used to think technology transfer went in one direction, but that's no longer the case."
In a blog post
the day after Gross' remarks, Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina
President and CEO George Stevens put everything in perspective: "After Mr. Gross ended his talk and the applause died down I thought, community foundations are a platform for the nonprofit ecosystem. Do we encourage donor innovation using our platform? Do we engage the entrepreneurial donors in our communities? To fail to do so is to be left behind in the recovery of the nonprofit sector."