Don't Forget to Take Off Your Shoes and Dance!

October 22, 2014

by Sindhu Knotz, partner, The Giving Practice

In late September, I attended the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s 2014 National Convening in Atlanta, as part of a team providing facilitation support. This year the convening brought together nearly 200 grantee partners of the foundation and, in keeping with the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s movement building strategy, launched a new national membership organization called Equal Voice Action (EVA)

I found the convening incredibly inspiring in several ways. It began by honoring community traditions through poetry, dance, and storytelling, and featured remarkable plenary speakers. In one, Richard Blanco, President Obama’s inaugural poet, shared memories from his childhood in Cuba and read his now famous poem “One Today.” In another plenary, William Bell, Philanthropy Northwest board member and CEO of Casey Family Programs, eloquently spoke about how philanthropy can address issues of race and class in our nation, and moved the crowd to a standing ovation. Throughout the event, I met many inspiring individuals who work tirelessly to support low-income families, on a range of issues such as criminal justice, immigration, homelessness, and education.

The convening was designed by grantees, for grantees. I appreciate this approach to building grantee capacity because learning together and building networks is such a powerful tool for movement building. The sessions offered grantees ways to enhance the impact of their work, through social media, technology, fundraising and member recruitment. Through the “peer pop-up” sessions we hosted (modeled after our Philanthropy Northwest conference practice) attendees had the opportunity to propose relevant topics and strategize with their peers in real time. For example, in one session I attended, advocates for low-income working mothers came together to compare information about state policies impacting low-income women, and how EVA could make a difference in their collective work.

I was also reminded of how important it is for funders and their grantees to find spaces to come together -- in celebration of the work and in the spirit of shared learning. Because this convening formally launched EVA, the foundation created a celebratory tone throughout the event. This was perhaps best represented during the closing plenary, where after a moving speech by Marguerite Casey Foundation CEO Luz Vega-Marquis, balloons fell from the ceiling and foundation board, staff and grantees alike took their shoes off and started dancing. There were lots of toasts, warm hugs, and even a conga line to celebrate an important moment in the movement for improving the lives of families in America.

I left the Marguerite Casey Foundation convening with a renewed inspiration for my work, and a renewed respect for all those organizations out there that are working, every day, to make our society a better place for all.