Local Matters 2015 Kicks Off in Wyoming

April 30, 2015

Jon Stahl, Communications Director

I’ve just returned from Local Matters: Wyoming, the first event in our 2015 Local Matters series. We partnered with the Homer A. and Mildred S. Scott Foundation and Wyoming Community Foundation to organize this first-of-its-kind gathering, bringing together more than 80 people from foundations and nonprofits engaged in Wyoming philanthropy. With folks working on issues including education, the arts, social services, health and conservation, and representing communities across the state, as well as from neighboring Montana and Nebraska, we filled the historic Sheridan Inn for a lively conversation about the many ways in which philanthropy is... right next door.

Our morning together was built around two panel conversations, ably facilitated by Michelle Sullivan of the Scott Foundation. The first, with Wyoming Nonprofit Network Executive Director Jody Shields and Philanthropy Northwest CEO Jeff Clarke, talked about big-picture trends in philanthropy — nationally, regionally and locally — drawing on Philanthropy Northwest's Trends in Northwest Giving 2014 report, as well as forthcoming research from Wyoming Nonprofit Network.

A key theme from their conversation was the trend, which we can see not only in Wyoming but across the region and the nation, of decreasing government grant revenue, increasing compliance requirements and increasing demand for services. Among other things, this trend underscores how important it is for nonprofits and philanthropy to work together to educate policymakers about the important work of the social sector and to create new ways to partner with government, businesses and citizens to strengthen and sustain our efforts to build more resilient communities. Particularly in rural communities, government officials are very accessible, but it's up to us to seize the opportunity to connect with them.

Our second conversation, featuring Lyn Ziegenbein, CEO emeritus of the Peter Kiewit Foundation, Mickey Babcock, president of The Equipoise Fund and Mary Garland, president of the John P. Ellbogen Foundation, brought three dynamic leaders in Wyoming philanthropy to the stage to talk about their experiences as long-term community investors.

Some of the themes that emerged from their wide-ranging conversation included:

  • Giving beyond the grant. "Philanthropy is more than being an ATM," said several folks, or as Mickey Babcock put it, "At Equipoise, we don't 'make grants' — we fuel great ideas." 
  • Engaging across sectors to increase impact. "By finding common ground between funders, nonprofits, communities and government we stack our value and strengthen our impact," said Lyn Ziegenbein.
  • Philanthropy as a catalyst for collaboration. All three of our panelists (and many audience members!) spoke of the critical value of connecting and building relationships, tackling big challenges with limited resources, of how important it is to focus on asking questions without presuming to know the answers, remaining nimble and adaptive and focusing on long-running processes rather than individual projects.

Personally, I was most struck by the deep pride of place that was palpable not only in the room, but physically manifest in Sheridan itself through its public art, beautifully restored historic buildings and community events – and the amazing wildlife on display in the iconic Mint Bar!

Our deepest appreciation to the Homer A. and Mildred S. Scott Foundation, Jenny Craft, Jay McGinnis, Wyoming Community Foundation, Foundant Technologies, First Interstate Bank and The Equipoise Fund and to the Wyoming philanthropic community for being such gracious and welcoming hosts and for breathing life into the “Local Matters” concept.

Local Matters 2015 is off to a roaring start, and we’re looking forward to seeing folks in Boise, Idaho next month to explore the many ways in which philanthropy is… entrepreneurial!