Message from Vikki Spruill and Kevin Murphy on the new Council

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing today to update you on our work on your behalf during the last year to make the Council more effective and responsive. This will be the first in a series of updates about the work of the Council.

A year ago today, the board directed the Council on Foundations staff to develop an association that would effectively provide its membership with the opportunity, leadership, and resources needed to advance the common good. In order to respond nimbly and efficiently to the demands of the 21st century, the Council had to make some changes. The board empowered the newly appointed CEO, together with her team, to develop and execute a modern vision for the association. That vision has been shaped by four guiding principles:

  1. Stronger Policy Advocacy: The Council will strengthen philanthropy’s voice at the national and international levels by advancing public policies that ensure a thriving sector and by telling the story about philanthropy’s contributions across our nation and around the world.
  2. Productive Thought Leadership: The Council will introduce and connect our members to opportunities, cutting-edge solutions, thought leaders, and resources on a variety of topics to maximize their impact.
  3. A Thriving Philanthropic Network: The Council will serve as an effective and efficient national and international hub to connect Council members working on shared social challenges and opportunities—across geographies, constituencies, and topics.
  4. An Effective and Responsive Organizational Structure: The Council must become a more flexible and resilient organization that responds to the needs of its members and the philanthropic sector, while maintaining strong nationwide perspective.

During the last year, the board and staff have undertaken an extensive process for soliciting feedback from members, stakeholders, and specialists. Your candor and willingness to assist us are much appreciated and continue to inform our efforts to strengthen the organization. With your continued support and guidance, we will sustain a vital and efficient organization that works well for our members.

Throughout this process, we have been heartened to learn about the high hopes that people have for the Council and its future. It is clear to us that despite the many challenges our sector faces, this organization has many strengths—terrific members, a strong philanthropic sector, and leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves with us to advance the important work of philanthropy in communities across the globe.

Though you will see a bit more about each of our guiding principles below, the Council will be providing you more specific information about each of these areas over the next few weeks.

Stronger Policy Advocacy
Our vision for the Council’s transformation starts, but does not end, with providing a more persuasive and clear voice for philanthropy in Washington, D.C. To that end, we have built a top-notch public policy team of issue experts and political strategists who know how to get the job done.

Council on Foundations Board Chair Kevin Murphy Testifies on the Importance of the Charitable Deduction

The Council is taking a leadership role in the effort to protect the charitable tax deduction. Working closely with our nonprofit, foundation, and other charitable sector partners, we are gaining traction in our efforts to make sure policymakers clearly understand the real cost to communities that will come from tampering with the charitable deduction. For example, our board Chair, Kevin Murphy, recently testified before the House Ways & Means Committee about the important role the charitable deduction plays in supporting communities throughout the country.

Here is what one leading member of Congress had to say about the importance of the charitable deduction during another recent hearing on the topic:

“Public charities and private foundations perform invaluable services for our society, especially during this time of economic slowdown and high unemployment. These organizations depend upon the goodwill of the American people – the most giving and charitable people in the world.”
- Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chairman, House Ways & Means Committee

As the debate on tax reform heats up, we know we cannot take anything for granted, and we continue to be strong advocates for other issues of importance to the philanthropic sector, including excise tax, effective oversight by the IRS, and the IRA charitable rollover. We will continue to do everything possible to ensure any proposed policy changes do not adversely affect your work. We hope you are enjoying the early editions of Washington Snapshot that are being delivered to you every Thursday from our public policy team, and we urge you to continue to let us know about the issues of importance to you and your partners.

Together, we are reframing how philanthropy is understood as a leader of strategy, innovation, and impact and not only about monetary contributions.

Productive Thought Leadership
Though the Council plays an important role in convening some of the industry’s best and brightest, we also have to make sure that the best practices of the industry are disseminated widely and are given appropriate consideration. We know you want more relevant discussions, provocative speakers, and professional development opportunities; and not only at large, formal conferences. New technologies have increased our ability to reach a wider audience and will also enable us to improve the membership experience for all who participate.

Ellen Alberding, Hon. Rahm Emanuel, Hon. Michael Nutter, and Hon. Mitch Landrieu Open the 2013 Annual Conference

Conferences serve two important functions at the Council. First, they remain an excellent venue for sharing ideas and knowledge. Second, they allow us the opportunity to showcase to the world the excellent work underway in all parts of the charitable sector. We want wider audiences to know about all the good work accomplished in communities throughout the country.

Exposing our members to the challenges and perspectives of their colleagues is a hallmark of our new approach. Together, we will uncover shared social challenges and our proposed solutions will be better

because they will be informed by the experiences of people across geographies, constituencies, and disciplines.

Our members have made it clear they want the Council to foster more of these kinds of connections. For example, our Annual Conference in April included a session on philanthropy’s role in addressing safer communities and featured a variety of diverse and controversial viewpoints.

An example of this new approach can be seen in our conference “Request for Expertise” for the Fall Conference for Community Foundations that has attracted new voices and talent to our programming. We are changing our conference format to allow us to dig deeper into the substantive issues the major plenaries can only begin to highlight. In addition, we will be convening many more kinds of dialogues around topics of interest to our members. Some will be in person, some on conference calls, and others through digital and social media. We always want to be responsive to the changing ways in which people consume their information.

A Thriving Philanthropic Network

Vikki Spruill Talks with Members at the 2013 Annual Conference

Our members and stakeholders have made it clear that the Council must provide faster, easier ways for you to connect with each other. To this end, we have developed a new network strategy where the Council serves as a hub for connections, services, and resources. In December 2012, the board fully endorsed this new direction.

To increase accessibility and responsiveness to you in your communities, we are establishing a presence for Council staff throughout the country.

We intend to engage more directly, thoughtfully, and deeply with you and other regional leaders. We want to better understand the needs of our members while working collaboratively and additively with other important colleagues in all regions.

We’re excited to report that in the fall the Council will have two regional network managers in initial sites in California and New England. They will work with local leaders to develop a geographically responsive approach because we do not want the association’s priorities to be determined just by what’s happening in Washington D.C. Over the next 6-12 months, we intend to hire four more regional managers to work in other parts of the country, so the Council will eventually connect with all of its members more directly nationwide.

We are also engaging with members around topics directly relevant to your work and mission. One early example is the Corporate Philanthropy Initiative that stands out as a preeminent resource for corporate philanthropy, as well as the Council’s entire membership. One community foundation member who has been using this resource recently said:

“[We] never realized how much [we] could learn from corporate philanthropy that would apply to [this] work. This makes the case for the value of the network model.”

It is tough to conceptualize exactly how a stronger network affects your everyday life, so we want to offer an example of how it is changing the way we do business. Following the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., the Council team reached out to local leaders, including the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy and the Fairfield County Community Foundation, to determine the best way to provide assistance. After consulting with the local leaders, the Council staff worked collaboratively to organize a conference call with experts on disaster assistance and safe communities, some of whom had experience from the Oklahoma City bombings and the September 11 attacks.

The Council also provided technical assistance on developing funds to respond to the tragedy. This new way of working helps us share information in a timely, relevant manner and ensures that the best ideas and resources get to where they need to go as soon as possible. We are proud to have helped make a difference.

An Effective and Responsive Organizational Structure
For any organization to be successful, it must have an effective governance structure. Over the last year, we have carefully reviewed how the Council is configured in order to deliver more value to our members.

Recently, the Council board decided that it should reduce its size to 18 over the next few years to improve its efficiency and flexibility. It also decided that Council management should be empowered to create advisory committees that can deal with opportunities as they happen and create additional ways in which to engage many more of our members. To foster a more holistic and inclusive view of the membership, ex officio board members, who have historically represented one constituency group, will be phased out in June 2014. A strengthened technology platform is an important part of this transformation and will be the subject of a future communication. In the meantime, we have or are planning a series of outreach steps, via phone calls and in-person meetings, with all of the existing committees to keep you apprised of what’s at play.

We are also creating a more efficient structure by establishing accountability for all staff members of the Council. For the first time in more than two years, we are implementing staff performance reviews. Each staff member, including the executive team, has evaluated his or her performance and role within the organization. Managers and colleagues identified internal strengths and weaknesses in an effort to see what is working well and what is not. These reviews have shaped changes in job duties and structure by maximizing individual talent and harnessing professional interests in an effort to be more knowledgeable and responsive to the needs of the sector.

The more efficient structure will allow us to address emerging and urgent challenges and opportunities facing the sector. For example, the Council previously struggled to develop effective responses to natural disasters. Under the new structure, we can engage our network to establish ad hoc working groups to meet urgent needs. The Council’s past governance structure would have required board approval to do this.

Looking Ahead
Serving our members well will require a relentless focus on continual improvement. We pledge to challenge ourselves constantly and to work to anticipate our members’ needs.

As we move forward, we hope you will continue to provide us with your honest feedback and suggestions for sound growth. We have set up an e-mail address and phone line for our members to write or call with questions, concerns, or requests for assistance: and 703-879-0645.

Once again, we want to thank everyone whose leadership has helped the Council throughout its 60-plus years of service. The stewardship of this organization benefits tremendously from the extraordinary talent and commitment that can be found throughout the philanthropic sector. We thank you for standing with us and for your membership. Working collaboratively, we can build on the past to be stronger for the future.


Vikki N. Spruill
President and CEO
Council on Foundations

Kevin K. Murphy
President, Berks County Community Foundation
and Chair, Council on Foundations Board of Directors