Bright Horizons for Northwest Philanthropy

October 3, 2016

Serving on the board of Philanthropy Northwest over the past six years has been both an honor and a pleasure. To work with such thoughtful peers to help advance this innovative organization is deeply rewarding — but never more so than during last month’s Under One Sky conference in Missoula, Montana.

I’ve been a regular at philanthropy conferences of all sorts for more than 20 years. In all that time, I’ve never participated in a conference that illuminated its guiding themes so successfully. Equity and democracy are profoundly important to me and to the organization I lead, the Northwest Area Foundation. Our foundation is committed to helping people in our priority communities across the Northwest — including Native Americans, immigrants and refugees, communities of color and people living in the rural parts of our region — to thrive on their own terms and have a voice in the policy debates that shape their lives. So coming together in Missoula, engrossed in a conference experience that offered such varied and engaging ways to explore our work through these lenses, was as refreshing as it was thought-provoking.

The most powerful part of the week for me was a visit to the University of Montana’s Payne Family Native American Center. During that remarkable afternoon organized by the Potlatch Fund, we heard from a dynamic group of Native high school and college students about their visions for the future and their day-to-day efforts to make their chosen futures a reality.

Thanking Our Ambassadors, Friends & Champions

The conference was also special for me because I had the privilege of presenting Philanthropy Northwest’s Mary Helen Moore Ambassador of the Year Award to a leader I admire tremendously and consider a good friend: Natalie Camacho Mendoza, a Boise-based attorney and lifelong advocate for an equitable and forward-looking Idaho. Natalie, who also serves on my board at the Northwest Area Foundation, co-chaired the conference along with Philanthropy Northwest board members Antony Chiang and Mike Halligan, delivering an experience as hospitable as Missoula itself and as inspiring as the big Montana sky.

Looking ahead, I am delighted to have been elected chair of Philanthropy Northwest's board of directors, succeeding our friend David Bley of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Following in his steady, effective and generous footsteps will not be easy, but I’m eager to give it a try. Luckily, David will continue on the board in our past chair position. We do have to bid a grateful farewell, however, to past chair Sue Coliton of the Washington State Arts Commission and departing board member Elizabeth Warman of The Boeing Company. They’ll be missed in the boardroom, but we know they will remain stalwart friends and champions of Philanthropy Northwest.

We’ve also welcomed three terrific new board members, elected at the annual members meeting during our conference in Missoula. Northwest Health Foundation's Nichole Maher is a colleague I’ve respected and learned from for years, while Rasmuson Foundation's Aleesha Townes-Bain and Boeing's Huong Vu are dynamic philanthropy leaders whom I’m just getting to know. They will bring new insights, new networks and new brain power to an already excellent board of directors.

I hope everyone in the Philanthropy Northwest network shares my sense of optimism and forward motion for our work. Interim CEO Audrey Haberman and the staff team have done a stellar job of keeping the organization fresh and productive during the current leadership transition. And if all goes well, we will be able to welcome a new CEO early next year who will keep our momentum going and hold us true to the values and priorities that make Philanthropy Northwest so distinctive.

Philanthropy Northwest’s new strategy framework and our vibrant learning network of members are remarkable assets. I look forward to our journey together in the years ahead, inspired by a shared vision in which Northwest communities have vibrant, healthy futures that honor our past, our people and our cultures. Please let me know if there is anything I can do as your board chair to help you connect with all that Philanthropy Northwest has to offer, by commenting on this blog post or reaching out to me directly.

Kevin Walker is chair of Philanthropy Northwest's board of directors, and president and CEO of Northwest Area Foundation. He can be reached at kfwalker@nwaf.org.