Vikki Spruill Addresses 25th Anniversary Conference of the Mexican Center for Philanthropy

Thank you very much for the warm introduction.  The Council has valued our partnership with Cemefi from its start in 1988, and I want to offer my heartfelt congratulations to you on your 25th anniversary.  We enjoyed hosting many of you at our annual conference in Chicago in April, and I am delighted to join you here today.

In particular, I’d like to thank: chairman of the Cemefi board of directors, Mercedes Aragonés; and president, Jorge Villalobos.

I also want to thank Jacqueline Butcher de Rivas, Cemefi board member who previously served on the Council global committee.

I’m honored to join you and am most grateful for your kind invitation to speak today. Mexico and the United States have an important friendship, and I see the relationship between our philanthropic communities as an essential component of our nations’ continued bond.

Anniversaries like this give us reason to reflect on our efforts and the efforts of our predecessors -- in time.  They allow us to rethink our ways by communing with our own past and by challenging our views of the future.

I want to begin my remarks with a brief reflection on the last twenty-five years.

Technology and social media are fostering international engagement around the world.  We can now attend meetings held across the ocean and speak with grantees while they are working in remote parts of the world.  We can watch in real time as daredevils jump from space down to the earth. But none of this communication means anything unless we also work to understand each others’ ways. 

In the U.S., the growing Latino population has made us much more aware of the culture, language, and priorities of Latin America.

Just as our populations grow closer together, philanthropy itself has become more cosmopolitan in the past twenty-five years.

Global infrastructure for philanthropy and international engagement are more robust than ever before.

At the time of Cemefi’s founding, we did not have the philanthropic support infrastructure or collaboration we know today.

Early in its existence, Cemefi advocated strongly for international meetings of associations serving grantmakers. They believed that our nationally responsive work would be enhanced through international engagement. In 1998, Cemefi hosted a groundbreaking meeting in Oaxaca, which laid the foundation for the creation of a global network of grantmaker support organizations known as the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support or WINGS.  In fact, I have recently joined the Board of WINGS and am delighted to play a more active role.

Recent research shows there are over one hundred forty organizations in over fifty countries supporting philanthropy. Thanks to leadership from Cemefi and others, these organizations can leverage international networks to bring the latest innovations and best practices to their national sectors.

Philanthropy now engages with a multitude of international philanthropic partnerships, such as WINGS, the European Foundation Centre, the China Foundation Center, the African Grantmakers Network, GIFE in Brazil, the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, and the World Bank. The existence of these organizations enriches our work greatly and encourages all of us to consider coordinated actions to overcome the deep and systemic challenges facing our countries. We now have multiple sources of research, multiple channels for dialogue, and multiple structures of accountability.

Another critical development in global philanthropy has been the global economic recession, which has revealed the limitations of the public and private sectors. Governments have shown that they cannot address all the needs of their citizens alone, so they are developing new philanthropic and private sector partnerships.

A few months ago, some of the Council’s members, like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, helped organize a meeting on advancing global development goals to help grantmakers reach better alignment around common priorities. At the meeting, the president of the Ford Foundation Darren Walker remarked, that “You can’t have civil societies without a strong ecosystem of civil society actors.” His words reflect an important new consensus around the critical role that grantmakers play – and have always played -- in enhancing civil society.

Meaningful collaboration is both the door and the key to strengthening and expanding our investments.

In light of these developments, U.S. based grantmakers have rethought their global strategies and drastically increased the scale of their international grantmaking.

For example, between 1988 and 2011, U.S. foundations went from giving just $7.42 billion to giving about $49 billion – an almost sevenfold increase! Between 1990 and 2010, U.S. giving internationally has increased from just $764 million to $4.3 billion.

But we cannot and should not characterize philanthropy simply by the amount of money that gets granted. Philanthropy is so much more than a bank or a stream of funding. Philanthropy, when done well, can catalyze social change, take risks that others cannot, transform the delivery of human services, build communities, and provide new understanding through research and nonprofit journalism, as just a few examples.

The growth of U.S. philanthropic investment at the global level signifies a new audacity of common purpose grounded in a growing recognition of America’s role as a global citizen

U.S. based foundations have taken a particularly keen interest in supporting Mexico, our neighbor and friend. Over the past ten years, U.S. based foundations have increased funding to Mexican NGOs by about 71%, so it is clear that U.S. philanthropy is putting its resources behind its friendship with its Mexican counterparts.

When Cemefi began in 1988, Mexico only had one community foundation. What is remarkable is that in just two decades, your country had twenty-one community foundations with hundreds of millions of pesos in assets. This development would not have been possible if Cemefi had not organized the first meeting dedicated to the expansion of the community foundation concept in Mexico in 1993. Community foundations are growing local philanthropy in Mexico with an estimated 85% of funds raised coming from private, domestic donations. The largest of these is the community foundation of Chihuahua, which has already invested more than 107 million pesos to human and community development in the state of Chihuahua. 

Back in the U.S., community foundations across our country are celebrating Community Foundation Week, beginning today. This week allows us to highlight the benefits of place-based giving, and I want to speak about the power of place-based giving with a quick story.

In May 2010, nearly fifty centimeters of rain fell on the state of Tennessee in a twenty-four hour period. The resulting “thousand year flood” covered sixty counties that were designated federal disaster areas, and because a major oil spill disaster was developing in the Gulf of Mexico from an explosion on an oil rig, little national attention was given to the tragedy in Tennessee. In response, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, along with the city of Nashville, organized one hundred and fifty events across the country. They generated about 800,000 volunteer hours, repaired nearly 12,000 homes, and provided over 18,000 flood survivors with counseling.  Garth Brooks, a famous American Country singer, even left retirement for nine concerts to raise awareness and money for the long term recovery efforts that would be needed. By bringing people together, they showed the resilience of community and the importance of place-based philanthropy.

American community foundations are also active in giving to Mexico. The International Community Foundation has given hundreds of grants to community based organizations in Mexico. The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona collaborated with a Mexican community foundation, FESAC Sonora, to support families with autistic children. The grant went to Enciendo al Autismo, a parent run nonprofit providing treatment and training services to low income families with autistic children in Nogales, Sonora, where the number of diagnoses is on the rise.

Because of the efficacy of the community foundation model, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Inter-American Foundation -- in partnership with several Mexican foundations including Fundación Merced -- have invested in creating the first phase of a six-year program to develop Mexican community foundations. 

As part of their efforts, these funders are supporting the development of a new network of community foundations, known as Comunalia. Over the next three years, the program will develop a cohort of forty emerging community foundation leaders, enhancing grantmaking capacity for grassroots initiatives, and strengthening the institutional capacity of Comunalia members through technical assistance.

The contributions of Mott, Kellogg and Inter-American foundations, when leveraged with local and national resources in Mexico create a truly collaborative effort we should all strive to emulate.

In many ways, foundations have risen to the challenges of our time by becoming so much more than just grantmaking organizations. They have built convening power, expanded organizational capacity building, made data more available and useful, and provided flexible operating support.

A consensus has emerged that grantmaking is just one of the many tools to be utilized in spurring social innovation and meeting community needs.


As the largest philanthropic organization in the United States, the Council on Foundations has been encouraging the kind of collaboration and partnership I’ve discussed. Associations of philanthropies, like the Council and Cemefi, are uniquely positioned to promote information sharing and facilitate potential partnerships.  Because of our unique roles in our respective countries, we have the opportunity to identify trends and patterns within philanthropy, sharing and learning from them.

I want to take the opportunity of today’s discussion to outline the Council’s approach to global philanthropy, which has four major objectives.

First, the Council will build stronger partnerships with global philanthropic organizations, like Cemefi and the European Foundation Centre, to better inform our own members about work being done abroad and connect our members with international grantmakers.

The Council’s network of philanthropic leaders will facilitate, to the highest degree possible, the free flow of information. As a part of a holistic philanthropic network, we will all be able to create more stability and prosperity for the people we serve.

A strong example of cross-border collaboration that should interest this group is the network of foundations known as the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership, led by Executive Director Andy Carey, who is with us here today. This partnership offers networking and development tools in a bi-national context.

Since 2008, this partnership has worked with hundreds of leaders on both sides of the border, and now works with more than one hundred nonprofits and foundations serving the border region.

The second objective of our approach is that the Council will promote philanthropy as a key component of global civil society.

Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to create greater global stability, prosperity, and opportunity. The principal way that the Council will promote philanthropy as a major component of global civil society will be through our role as co-chairs of the U.S. State Department’s Global Philanthropy Working Group, along with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched this Working Group to facilitate engagement with foundations and members of the U.S.-based philanthropic community.

Through this position, we will have an alert mechanism when foreign countries impose restraints on philanthropy and civil society. We will identify legal and regulatory reforms to increase cross-border grantmaking. This group will also facilitate conversations with foreign leaders about philanthropy.

We are also glad to be working with the current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his lead advisors.

The Council can utilize these opportunities and its cross-sector networks to promote philanthropy as a key component of a healthy, vibrant civil society.

The third objective of the Council’s approach is to serve as a resource to our counterparts abroad.

As you are developing programs and thinking of new ways to advance the common good, I encourage you to connect with philanthropic organizations in the U.S. Our members are working on similar issues and are increasingly seeking global partners.    

As a sign of our desire for further global collaboration, I invite you to become international members of the Council. We are offering a special international membership to our global partners.  The Council staff has a long history of involvement in global philanthropy, and we will continue to build upon this tradition.

I am also very excited to announce today that the Council on Foundations has been working with WINGS to put together an annual meeting where the Presidents and CEO’s of national-level philanthropic infrastructure organizations may come together. Building on work already done by WINGS and other infrastructure groups, the meeting will allow us to update each other on our respective philanthropic activities and to develop better collaboration across the globe.

The final and perhaps most important objective of the Council’s approach to global philanthropy is that we will engage our international partners and philanthropic colleagues with humility. 

We understand that while the U.S. is home to many exciting advances in philanthropy and charity, we do not have all the answers. I acknowledge that the American style of philanthropy is not the only way, nor is it necessarily the best way. 

Meaningful engagement requires mutual respect, so I believe it is critical that we listen as much as we speak, that we learn as much as we teach, and that we share as often as possible in the spirit of reciprocity.

I want to conclude by saying that I am truly appreciative of your time and attention. It is a high honor for me to be able to speak with all of you on a subject as important as the future of philanthropy.

My sincere hope is that the next twenty-five years will be known as a period of unprecedented international cooperation and collaboration in the philanthropic community. 

Gatherings like this, whether they take place around a conference table or in a virtual space, should become more routine.

The Council is grateful for the collaboration with Cemefi over the past twenty-five years, and we look forward to the next twenty-five years. 

In thanks for your friendship and for the work you’ve done to support philanthropic giving over the last twenty-five years, I would like to present you with a small token of our appreciation.

Muchísimas Gracias. ¡Feliz aniversario!