Emerging Leaders

When leaders from approximately 48 Pennsylvania-based foundations gathered in State College in April for the Council on Foundations’ Pennsylvania Philanthropy Conference, the negative effects of the state’s infamous nine-month budget impasse on human service delivery were painfully fresh. Nonprofits, especially agencies with state and county contracts, were worn down by months of financial uncertainty. Staff and clients felt underserved by elected officials of both parties in Harrisburg.

The vote for Britain to exit the European Union took philanthropy and the rest of the world by surprise. But it raises tough new questions about how grant makers should respond to political and financial turmoil and uncertainty.

A year and a half before the historic US Supreme Court ruling ended discrimination in civil marriage rights for same-sex couples, foundations and nonprofit leaders of the LGBTQ movement came together to address a concern: While many activists anticipated the legal victory, many also worried that the larger movement for LGBTQ equality would lose momentum in the wake of a win—potentially leaving important issues unaddressed.

Recently, I saw the power of what happens when you put a few dozen foundation CEOs in a room together to discuss the future. They generate as many questions for each other as answers, and, as the head of the Council on Foundations, I’d say that’s a great thing for the communities philanthropy serves. After all, learning and leading together is how lasting solutions are made.

In philanthropy we’ve long known that we play a unique role by addressing society’s most pressing challenges at their root. Our work is distinct from charity – focused less on meeting immediate needs and more on tackling the underlying causes. And we’re well positioned to take risks to figure out what strategies work best to solve social problems, something that companies and other players beholden to greater political and consumer pressures can’t always do.

Sophia Guevara recently had the opportunity to interview Emily Kessler, the interim director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. In this interview, Emily shares how she got her start in philanthropy and what she is hoping to do to help emerging professionals and increase the value of an EPIP membership.

Americans donated an estimated $335 billion to charitable causes, and foundations an estimated $50 billion in 2013 according to Giving USA. These numbers validate President John F. Kennedy’s notion that philanthropy is “a jewel of an American tradition.”