Annual Meeting Remarks from Jeff Clarke

November 19, 2014

Philanthropy Northwest CEO Jeff Clarke offered a few remarks at the our 2014 annual member meeting, held November 18 in Seattle. Here's his text as prepared for delivery.

Jeff ClarkeThank you!

Good morning! Its so nice to see so many friends and family this morning. I appreciate this opportunity to share some observations with you, but first, a few thank yous. Thank you for honoring us with your presence here at the 2014 Philanthropy Northwest member meeting. Thank you and congratulations Karri. Your leadership is admirable and your devotion to community shows that the commitment to doing good is indeed a powerful and creative motivator. Thank you Steve Bass and Clifton Allen Larson for your support this morning. Thank you to our many sustaining members who believe that Philanthropy Northwest matters, investing in a way that allows us to constantly change ourselves so that we can be the indispensable partner that you expect us to be. Thank you to the amazing board that, on behalf of the membership and the field, so thoughtfully guides the organization through the process of change, skillfully avoiding the perils and proactively seizing the opportunities that come with that future. And finally, each day, I have the distinct privilege of working with an incredibly talented, experienced, creative and fun team. As you know, the team spans the learning network, Mission Investors Exchange and The Giving Practice. There is simply no way that I could be standing here this morning sharing observations about the last year without their exceptional leadership and support. Could the team please stand so that we may thank you for all that you do both here and across the country?

As I reflect on my time in the field, it continues to be an incredible honor to work in philanthropy which, by its very nature, is relentlessly optimistic. Accordingly, American philanthropy represents a long tradition of private investment to promote and strengthen the public good.

Many of our friends here today will appropriately remind us that long before “philanthropy” came to mean an industry, being a community philanthropist was, for thousands of years, a way of life here in the Northwest. Today, philanthropy here in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming is community, family, corporate, collective, independent, public, tribal, private, local, regional, national, global, small, large, emerging, established, rural, urban, entrepreneurial, responsive, proactive, conservative, moderate and progressive all at the same time. And that is how it should be: a diverse network forging a distinctive regional approach to philanthropy: authentic, open, collaborative, sharing a common aspiration to collaboratively build resilient communities grounded in unique local cultures of place.

19th century Japanese scholar Okakura Kakuzo observed, “The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Such a simple and elegant observation masks the underlying reality: change is both difficult and personal. Today, powerful demographic, technological, economic, environmental and social trends are reshaping our communities. Within this context, our shared challenge as philanthropists is not only to respond to a changing world, but to recognize that philanthropy itself is changing — and with it the ecosystem of organizations and institutions that support philanthropy.

The change in philanthropy is real. As a result, the Board recently adopted simplified and inclusive membership criteria that invite “any organization, collective or individual committed to advancing the practice of philanthropy in the region” to join the network.

Individuals play a critical role in U.S. philanthropy. Not only are individuals increasingly driving philanthropic innovation outside of the institutional construct, they also typically give 80% of what is now roughly $335BB in annual charitable giving in the United States. And that’s how it should be: “philanthropy”, which means “love of humanity,” extending an open invitation to all. And this is why it is so important that we commit to crafting and communicating an inclusive message. With “philanthropy” becoming as much a professional industry as an ethos and human spirit, the risk is that we create the perception of exclusivity based solely on the notion that the influence lies primarily with the “institution." Today, industry experts often go to great lengths to try to differentiate between charity and “true” philanthropy. If our collective goal is to grow the culture of philanthropy, this false dichotomy undermines our collective work. Let’s be clear: feeding hungry people and solving the root causes of food insecurity are BOTH inherent to the philanthropy ethos and require all of us to work together.

Speaking of working together more intentionally to strengthen the sector and its influence, we are honored to now have reciprocal memberships with each of our six state nonprofit association partners: The Foraker Group (Alaska); Idaho Nonprofit Center; Montana Nonprofit Association; Nonprofit Association of Oregon; Washington Nonprofits and Wyoming Nonprofit Network.

The leadership of and experimentation by philanthropy in our region is also real. Here are just a few examples:

  • Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and BIll & Melinda Gates Foundation's leadership with Ebola

  • Bullitt Foundation's Bullitt Center is the most sustainable commercial building in world

  • Campion Advocacy Fund and Marguerite Casey Foundation experimenting with 501c4 structures

  • 12 partners co-mission investing regionally in local food systems through Cascadia Food Shed Funders group

  • 18 partners leading Graduation Matters Montana to ensure Montana's public schools graduate more students prepared for college and careers

  • Meyer Memorial Trust’s Invest Oregon initiative designed to locally mission invest a portion of its corpus in market-rate opportunities focused on creating social, environmental and economic benefit in Oregon

  • Five partners leading Recover Alaska to reduce the harm caused by excessive consumption of alcohol in Alaska

  • All across our network, you lead important, creative and diverse work in support of community – however you define it - locally, regionally, nationally and globally

If the world is changing, and you are adapting your work to that change in order to have more impact, what is Philanthropy Northwest, as part of the philanthropic support ecosystem, doing to change itself so that it can be your trusted partner?

While our core belief in the power of collective action to build strong, resilient communities is enduring, Philanthropy Northwest is a very different organization than it was even as recently as five years ago. In a world of accelerating change, we have made some big bets on what it takes to build and sustain a valuable, relevant and engaged network of philanthropists. As the annual report you have illustrates, early results show those bets on consulting, mission investing, community democracy and our philanthropic project incubator are good ones. In fact, because of these bets, Philanthropy Northwest is regarded by many others in the philanthropy ecosystem as entrepreneurial. It’s a role that we take seriously in our quest to redefine relevance.

Change may be inescapable and Kakuzo, the 19th century Japanese scholar, reminds us of the now ubiquitous slogan “there is no finish line.” However, it is your optimism –- both individual and collective –- that distinguishes philanthropy and makes it the indispensable partner to communities around the region and the world. On behalf of the Philanthropy Northwest team, thank you for all that you do.

Continuing with the theme of managing change, it is now my pleasure to introduce our featured program. We are honored to have five remarkable leaders with us today to discuss change from a governance perspective. Our panel includes Mary Craigle, board chair of Montana Community Foundation; Hyeok Kim, board member of Northwest Area Foundation; Sven Haakanson, trustee of First Alaskans Institute and Casey Woodard, board member of Woodard Family Foundation. Luz Vega–Marquis, Philanthropy Northwest board member and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation will moderate the conversation.