“You get nothing done if you don’t listen to each other.” -Barbara Bush
Listening to the remembrances of the late First Lady Barbara Bush this week, I was struck by her sense of humor, and by her uncanny talent for cutting to the heart of the matter. Mrs. Bush may not have been the first to express the idea that the first step to accomplishing great things is opening your ears, but she certainly boiled it down to its essence. She had it right: effective leadership starts by listening – really listening – to what other people have to say.
Over the past several weeks, the Outreach Committee of the Board has had the privilege of hearing from many of you about your hopes and ideas for the Council on Foundations. I’ve personally listened to feedback from members at the Public Policy Summit in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, and at meetings in New Mexico, and I’ve talked with dozens of members and friends of the Council on the phone. Over the next few weeks, our committee members will be taking part in more in-person conversations in Los Angeles, Dayton, Minneapolis and Chicago, and I know there are other gatherings of philanthropic leaders in the works.
At the center of each discussion has been the balance between the Council’s vital role in amplifying, strengthening and elevating the work of its members on the one hand, and our responsibility to advocate and lead on the issues that matter to the philanthropic community on the other.
That question of balance has permeated every conversation I’ve had over the past several weeks. It has taken many forms.
Among the services the Council provides, which are most valuable to our members? As the field evolves, which services are less important? What should we be adding to the mix to meet the challenges ahead?
In our role as leaders on policy, should we focus solely on issues that directly affect philanthropies (like state and federal tax policy)? Or should we also seek to join in the bigger picture societal and global issues we’re all grappling with every day? If we engage in both policy arenas, how should we allocate our time, resources and influence between them?
Where is the sweet spot where we are enabling and empowering our members to do the things only they can do, and adding strength, leadership and capacity that only an organization with a national platform can provide?
These aren’t easy questions to answer. From changes in tax policy to impact investing to the growing importance of community foundations, the rapidly changing landscape of philanthropy today demands new approaches to collaboration and the services the Council offers. The unprecedented historical moment we find ourselves in adds new levels of urgency and challenges to navigating the road ahead. It also offers new opportunities for philanthropy to lead and show the way.
At the end of the day, Mrs. Bush was right – true listening starts with the recognition that one person doesn’t have all the answers, but that together, we can create the path forward.
My fellow board members and I are eager for more of your insights and ideas. Our phones are at the ready; call us any time. Many of you have already contacted us through our dedicated email channel (firstname.lastname@example.org); keep those messages coming. And if you’re bringing together philanthropic leaders in your region, state, county or city, we will make every effort to be there in person to hear what you have to tell us.
Talk to us: we’re listening.