Growing: Looking Ahead to 2020

Growing: Looking Ahead to 2020

Image of lush green grain fields in foreground with a few white grain elevators in background
Kiran Ahuja

Our conference theme this year – Rooted. Grounded. Growing. – provides an important reflection piece for my end of year letter. Hopefully you caught earlier blogs by Elyse Gordon, our senior manager of programs, and Aleesha Towns-Bain, our conference co-chair and board chair, where they shared their thoughts on being Rooted and Grounded. I thought I would focus my end-of-year reflections on “Growing” – the anchor for our conference theme.

You’ve likely noticed over the past few years that we’ve expanded our DEI programming. This year we had the incredible opportunity to partner with CHANGE Philanthropy for the annual conference. This partnership allowed us to delve more deeply into what diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) means and looks like in our region and sector. We know our members are in different places in their DEI journey:  some have been working on equity issues for many years and are impatient, for good reason; others are just starting to explore what this can look like in their organization. This is to be expected, and we want to support you, wherever you might be on this journey – even if you haven’t begun yet. How Philanthropy Northwest and our members engage in DEI issues, discussions and strategies, and move along the spectrum from learning to action, is what I anticipate will be an important growth area for all of us in 2020. 

The conference not only highlighted our DEI commitment, it also highlighted a persistent gap in our efforts. Though both Philanthropy Northwest and CHANGE Philanthropy conferences were sold out, Judy Pigott, Satterberg Foundation trustee and longtime Philanthropy Northwest member, asked me, “where are the trustees? Aren’t they an essential part of this discussion?” More than 20 years ago, when Judy first attended a Philanthropy Northwest event, she was in awe of those in attendance: the trustees, staff and speakers. She went on to tell me, “I had so much to learn, and I was well aware of the responsibility I had agreed to take on when saying ‘yes’ to be one of the siblings birthing the Satterberg Foundation.” But Judy noticed, being one of the few trustees at the Philanthropy Northwest and CHANGE Philanthropy conferences this year, that many of her fellow trustees she would normally see, stayed home. Instead, they sent their staff, who learn, network and become further energized about how to achieve equitable outcomes in their communities. And with trustees absent, Judy fears, the effect of staff participation/enthusiasm for change is likely to be minimized. 

Judy believes, and I agree – our world is changing. We are seeing demographic shifts toward a more pluralistic society led by diverse communities; and a louder call for an equitable share of philanthropic resources. Judy believes strongly that family foundations were created for public benefit, and that the financial assets of the foundation – that provide a tax benefit to the donor – are not the sole property of the trustees. She went on to say that these assets are for the public good, and trustees’ purpose is to manage them.  One way to manage these assets is to be in lots of places and conversations like our recent conference, consider ideas different from our own and continue to evolve from old norms of philanthropy to new ones. 

So, Judy’s question sticks with me as I enter 2020. As far as a greater understanding and commitment to DEI, we’ve grown in many ways. But, we have a ways to go. We all need to come to the proverbial DEI table to create meaningful change in our communities. I look forward to expanding that table in 2020.  Growth is good. It reminds us of how far we have come, and how far we need to go. And on a personal note, it is the many meaningful conversations at the conference and throughout the year, like the one I had with Judy, that ensures my personal growth; and for that, I’m thankful as we move into a new decade!