Oct 12, 2010

Funding the Future: Reflections on the PNW 2010 Conference

By Heather Miller, Program Coordinator, Potlatch Fund
In the future, philanthropy will… This unfinished statement was presented to the attendees at the Philanthropy Northwest 2010 Conference. We each received a piece of paper with this statement printed across the top and were asked to complete the sentence. As I looked across the room and reflected on the sessions I attended I realized there were many ways to complete this statement.

In the future, philanthropy will… focus less on metrics and more on giving for the sake of giving. I would have completed the statement in this way after attending the session “Are Metrics Getting Out of Hand?” The presentation and discussion focused on the use or over-use of metrics in foundation giving. Much of the discussion in the room focused on the idea that we in Foundations often stress the importance of metrics to our grantees and force them into providing statics and measurements that can distract from their programming work. Bruce Sievers, the panelist highlighted the fact that metrics should be viewed carefully and should help both Foundations and their Grantees create tools that can tell the story of the work being done that is useful to both organizations. One book that I will be checking out from the library that was highlighted in this session was Charles Seife’s, “Proofiness”. This book shows how numbers can be interpreted for their own purposes and since we have such faith in numbers, these statics often go unquestioned.

In the future, philanthropy will… be led by more people of color! I finished the statement in this way after participating in the off-site visit to the Lummi reservation. On the 30 minute tour around the reservation, we learned about some of the exciting work happening in the community. We saw the new sidewalk that the community organized and spoke up for in response to the number of traffic related deaths. We explored the canoe shed that houses the racing canoes that help youth reconnect and relearn their traditions, songs and culture. The tour ended at the Tribal College which currently serves community members reach their higher education goals. The programs in this community are creating new leaders. I hope that philanthropy will recognize this new, up and coming talent and provide jobs as well as learn from their ideas and experiences.

In the future, philanthropy will… include voices from all age ranges. As I looked around the room I felt this was the most appropriate response to the statement. I was in no way the youngest person in the room but was surprised by the lack of age diversity represented. I must admit that I was surprised by the number of “next generation” folks in attendance but still felt like the minority. A few of our faces were seen in each session and our voices were quiet but heard. Foundations are recognizing that we do have a seat at the table. My overall sense is that people are open and we will be asked to participate in many more conversations. Zeke (Spier, Executive Director of Social Justice Fund NW) mentioned that he highlighted EPIP in his panel session and I received many questions from others wanting more information on what we do here in the Seattle area.

These are a few of my reflections on the future of philanthropy but I encourage you to think further on this topic. Where will you go in philanthropy? What changes do you want to see? In the future, philanthropy will…

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