A Voice for Philanthropy: What the Council Means to Me

In April, my tenure as chair of the Council on Foundations’ Board of Directors will end, and I will near completion of my board service, a term bounded by two historic presidential elections and begun when our country experienced an economic collapse rivaled only by the 1929 market crash and the Great Depression that followed.

During my service, the philanthropic sector struggled to shore up local communities and our nonprofit partners as our own financial assets plummeted. Cities, counties, and states slashed public dollar investments in everything we say we care about — from providing a social safety net to investments in education, affordable housing, and after-school programs, to name just a few.

In 2015, the return on investments for private and community foundations was zero. We all can do the math. We know that formally structured giving entities, in contrast to individual giving, will now attempt to shore up our endowed resources, reducing grants and administrative expenses over the short run. Ironically, as we struggled to give away more than we earned, individual wealth grew by leaps and bounds. Now we learn that eight people own more than the remaining seven billion who call the planet home.

And that brings me to the Council on Foundations.

As the country struggled following the 2008 economic collapse, so did the Council. We reduced expenses, eliminated positions, and restructured our offerings. Despite these necessities, the Council increased and deepened our work on Capitol Hill, promoting, advancing, and protecting our sector with Members of Congress across the political aisle and throughout the administration.

This work has never been more important than at this moment. Congress is the sole entity that controls our future. The historic disruption we are living through is mind-boggling. No matter how we explain our country’s current penchant for overturning everything we thought we knew, we few understand that organizing foundations and leveraging our precious resources for the greater good is how we advance civil society.

More than at any previous time in my philanthropic career, I am certain that this is a time to come together. It is not a time to emphasize our differences, to dwell on what distinguishes a community foundation from a private foundation, to measure our individual worth by emphasizing the amount of assets under management, to put what we perceive to be individual self-interest above that of our common interest.

I recently listened to Mark Shields and David Brooks opine together that they are not certain that our country will continue as one nation. Brooks and Shields frequently hold opposing viewpoints, but they are seasoned and reasonable journalists who study the fabric of our civic culture. I find their observation disturbing; I fervently hope they are mistaken.

But I do wonder about what binds us together as a people. As I retire from my Council responsibilities, I also think about what binds us together as a profession and as a sector, and wonder how best we preserve what Americans have come to not only expect but absolutely need from private giving.

For me, the Council is the one entity that binds us together across a broad and diverse country and that allows us to speak to Congress and the public with one voice. While I recognize your need to balance budgets, I ask you to support the Council and its work advancing our collective interest by renewing your membership in the Council for 2017.

You can renew three ways:

  • Online. Access your account at cof.org/renew.
  • Mail. Renewal notices with an enclosed reply envelope were mailed in February. You can request an additional statement by emailing membership@cof.org.
  • Phone. Contact our membership team at 703.879.0645, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. EST.

And if you already have renewed, thank you. You enrich and strengthen the philanthropic sector by being a Council member.

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