Lucky 13: My Plans for Philanthropy Northwest's Conference

August 26, 2016

I consider myself lucky that I'm about to attend my 13th Philanthropy Northwest conference. I've been to every conference since 2003 — except our 2011 conference in Missoula, Montana, which conflicted with my daughter’s wedding. (We picked her date first!) So I'm especially glad to be heading to Missoula for our 2016 conference in a few weeks.

These 13 years of Philanthropy Northwest convenings have been quite a travelogue across our six-state region. Each one has been special; you’ll have to join me Under One Sky, September 13 to 15, to discover the magic yourself.

From Girdwood to Yellowstone

My first conference, in 2003, was in Girdwood, Alaska. Coincidentally, this was also Philanthropy Northwest’s first conference in Alaska. We were just a staff of five back then, a fraction of our current team of 19 staff and nine consultants! Our conference committee pulled out all the stops to welcome 229 attendees, including spectacular sightseeing trips to Prince William Sound, The Kenai Fjords, Matanuska Glacier and the North Slope oil fields. The memories range from the sublime to the silly. Father Michael Oleksa, a storyteller and recognized "Elder" by the Alaska Federation of Natives, had us alternately laughing and crying as he recounted his moving, powerful and heartfelt cross-cultural observations. The conference also featured Japanese Taiko drumming, the release of a rehabilitated eagle into the wild and an outing to the Fly by Night Club, where comedians delivered zingers on local culture (and lots of Spam jokes).

What else stands out over these many conferences? So many excellent site visits with funders passionate about their community: Walla Walla, Washington's art walk; Bend, Oregon's food tours; Juneau, Alaska's historical mining park. The late night line dancing in Big Sky, Montana after learning more about Yellowstone. All the special performances presented by local children’s groups. Even that concrete bunker-like dining room we had to endure for one of our locales ... lesson learned!

Left to right: Cheryl Frizzell, LaVerne Woods of Davis Wright Tremaine and Laurie Chiddix-Olson of Philanthropy Northwest at our 2004 conference reception at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Each of the diverse places had something special in common: the people. Philanthropy Northwest conferences are filled with unscripted opportunities to meet someone new and share a story. At that first conference I attended, in Girdwood in 2003, I took a short hike during one of the breaks and ended up meeting Ralph Hadac, trustee of Horizons Foundation on the trail. He and his fellow trustees were regular conference attendees, and each subsequent year we reconnected for a hike. I looked forward to the opportunity to catch up with him; he always had a good story, quick joke or tax complaint to share. Sadly, he passed away in 2013 — but I still think of him at each conference every time I make a new friend or reconnect with someone from last year.

Meet Me In Missoula

Conference postcards bring back happy memories!

I’m really looking forward to Philanthropy Northwest's return to Missoula, Montana in a few weeks. I missed the 2011 conference, but I did attend our board retreat there earlier that year. The town is charming, with an amazing riverfront trail system and a hand-carved carousel in a nearby park. Then and now, we're lucky to catch nuggets of local history from our friend Daniel Kemmis, former mayor of Missoula and Philanthropy Northwest board member from 2007 to 2015. He'll be joining us at the conference to share the new edition of his Philanthropy and the Renewal of Democracy monograph and help shape our conversations about democracy and equity.

I’m also looking forward to the conference itself: the sessions, the old friends, the new faces and the thought-provoking discussions. We're guarantees a very special evening at Grant Creek Ranch, with great food, company and the charming fainting goats. We'll be celebrating our 40th anniversary with a reception on September 14 recognizing some of our founding members, including Boeing, Ben B. Cheney Foundation, Medina Foundation, Seattle Foundation and United Way of King County. How fortunate we are to have these special relationships dating back four decades!

What will your special conference moment be? You won’t know if you aren’t there. It’s not too late to join us Under One Sky in Missoula, September 13-15, 2016. Check our website for agenda and registration details or contact my colleague Lyn Hunter for more information. Come along and maybe we can take a hike!

Cheryl Frizzell is Philanthropy Northwest's finance director. She can be reached at cfrizzell@philanthropynw.org.