Chasing Hope & Opportunity in 2017

January 5, 2017

We have arrived in 2017! Moving forward into the new year, Philanthropy Northwest is excited about what the future holds and prepared to build upon the successes of the previous year.

We would be remiss not to acknowledge that we leave 2016 with many uncertainties. However, we have great faith in our Northwest philanthropic community and bear witness to the deep and meaningful ways funders continue to invest in the innovation, resilience and optimism that define our region. We see regional philanthropy stepping up to ensure nonprofit and service organizations have the capacity to drive towards their missions and serve as advocates for what’s needed on the ground in their communities.

In the past few months, through conversations with colleagues, members and our board, we have been reminded that you place high value on generosity, compassion, human rights and justice. And so, we look ahead with a great sense of hope. Hope that we will find clarity and understanding in how we can move forward collectively as a region and nation. Hope in transparent conversations that make clear the places where we are more alike in our shared pursuits than we are different. Hope that as a sector we take advantage of opportunities to learn from our mistakes, replicate our successes and share in solutions that make philanthropy a more effective institution. In this hopeful spirit, here's a preview of the ways Philanthropy Northwest seeks to engage and have impact in 2017:

Bridging Divides Between Unlikely Partners

Has philanthropy done all it can to acknowledge and respond to cycles of poverty and economic insecurity that clearly transcend geographic boundaries? Have we done enough to address racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia? We saw vast differences in the election outcomes for the six states served by Philanthropy Northwest, and we have an opportunity to reach beyond the familiar to understand the disenfranchisement and inequalities experienced by many in our region.

Less than a week after the 2016 election, we held a conference call for our members where they expressed concern for communities that were facing fear, confusion, hatred and violence. We also heard members express the importance of philanthropy to continue to walk in our values, and advocate for and support the communities we espouse to see prosper and thrive. Central to our role as a regional network is creating space for dialogue among members and other stakeholders in the philanthropic sector. In 2017 we seek to create spaces that will lead to a greater understanding and empathy for differing points of view and lived experiences. Our plans include:

  • A series of conversations for rural funders and organizations to unpack the unique challenges and opportunities of working in rural parts of the region.
  • Cross-sector tables to which we will convene foundations and public sector entitles focused on particular social challenge to understand how they can align their efforts and better leverage resources
  • Our Annual Conference, featuring focused conversations on real-time challenges and space for shared learning opportunities around promising practices and failing up. 
  • Partnership with other philanthropy serving organizations to leverage their deep knowledge of populations, social issues, and policies and apply it to our regional perspective and programming

Stepping Up Philanthropy’s Role in Democracy and Civic Engagement

We hear the calls across the Northwest and nationwide for philanthropy to move off of the sidelines and leverage its power and financial position for social and systemic change that will benefit the families and communities most impacted by policy decisions at the state, regional and national level. Through our new Democracy Northwest initiative and policy programming, we intend to offer ways for members to engage along the spectrum of policy advocacy. Here are some of things to look forward to:

  • Foundations on the Hill is an annual opportunity for Philanthropy Northwest members and leaders to meet with federal officials in Washington, D.C. and educate them about the role and impact of philanthropy in our region and important issues for their constituents. We encourage all members to join us for this opportunity, March 20 to 22, to meet with members of Congress and participate in special audience events just for Philanthropy Northwest membership.
  • Under our new Democracy Northwest initiative, we will offer more focused programming and the sharing of resources to assist those members who are interested in strengthening democracy. In Democracy Northwest, our members will have a space where they can explore promising practices, and be in conversation and collaboration with other funders who share their commitment. 
  • For those who are interested in how to get started, we have policy programming opportunities in the first quarter of 2017 that are focused on building the capacity of foundations to engage in policy advocacy as both practitioner and investor. Stay tuned to our events calendar for updates.
  • In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we will continue to support community foundations, United Ways and population-based funders who are convening their communities and experimenting with models of civic engagement.

Taking the Lead on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Philanthropy

In our place-based work at Philanthropy Northwest and through our national consulting projects on The Giving Practice, we have had many conversations with foundation leadership who are deep in their journey of equity and inclusion and others who are just beginning to have conversations about what this means for their practice. The end goal is to ensure that philanthropy is a space that values the contributions of diverse people, perspectives and experiences. To that end we are building on recurring offerings and starting some new things:

  • We are launching Grantmaking with an Equity Lens, a new training program focused on using a racial equity lens in making grants. Through a hands-on, experiential curriculum, funders will learn how to apply a racial equity lens to ensure their grantmaking practices and policies are equitable, inclusive and responsive to diverse communities. 
  • We will launch the second cohort of our Momentum Fellowship, designed to create a pipeline of diverse practitioners for the field of philanthropy in our region. Building on the successes and lessons from cohort one and with the expansion of host foundations, we are excited to provide programming and support for a second class of Momentum Fellows.
  • In addition to creating a pipeline for new leadership, we wish to sustain existing diverse leaders in our sector and will launch a Grantmakers of Color Network, to provide peer networking and mentorship for staff and trustees of color in our region.  
  • Philanthropy Northwest continues on our own journey as an organization to be diverse, equitable and inclusive. We have a staff DEI committee that is analyzing organizational policies and practices, both internally and externally in our programming to ensure they reflect our values of equity. Our team has monthly lunch and learns around topics of race and equity, and we continue to prioritize diverse representation in our staff and board.

Targeted Support for Our Network

Philanthropy Northwest has the unique opportunity of serving a vast six-state region representing close to 200 family funds, foundations and corporate giving programs. We would be the first to admit meeting the needs of all members is no easy task.  We often go to you, our members, to ask what you want and need from us. Six months ago, we surveyed membership to tell us what they would like to see programmatically from Philanthropy Northwest. We heard you when you said, 1) more programming across the region and 2) specialized programming for specific types of foundations.  Plans are underway to ensure that all of our members continue to receive value from their relationship with Philanthropy Northwest and offer the following as a first response to your requests of us:

  • In 2017 we will be taking our signature foundational training for emerging practitioners, Philanthropy Institute, on the road. First stop Alaska! For the more seasoned philanthropists, a 2.0 training series is in development to take a deeper dive on trends and challenges in philanthropy. Topics in our design cue for 2.0 include authentic engagement of community partners, creating a learning organization and impact investing.
  • If you represent a community foundation, don't miss our Community Foundation Boot Camp, February 13-14 in Tacoma, Washington.
  • If you represent a family foundation, your membership to Philanthropy Northwest includes membership to the National Center for Family Philanthropy, which regularly offers webinars, trainings and resources for family foundations. We are also designing specific sessions for family, corporate and community foundations at our annual conference in October.

In addition to these very practical offerings, the team at Philanthropy Northwest looks forward to our continued thought partnership with the sector in 2017. American writer, James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We invite you to join us as we take on the things that we can change for the betterment of our society and region. And as always we move forward knowing that there are many talents, treasures and good will to leverage from our region’s legacy of responsive philanthropy and commitment to community leadership. Forward!

Maya Thornell-Sandifor is Philanthropy Northwest's director of learning strategy. She can be reached at