Postcards From the Road

May 20, 2014

by Jeff Clarke, CEO, Philanthropy Northwest

Could it be that it was only seven months ago that we met up for so many new connections, memorable conversations and learning moments in Juneau? With the recognition that, yes, it was but a short time ago, we headed into the 2014 conference season with aspirations of sparking equally compelling moments. The first two weeks of May raised the bar.

April 30 – May 2: A Community Gathering in Oregon 

Blue sky and warm weather greeted the almost 400 community, corporate and private philanthropists from across our region who traveled to Sunriver for our 2014 annual conference, The River Gathering: A Confluence of People, Places and Spirit. The key themes centered on collaboration, diversity, equity and inclusion. From the record number of attendees, to the 30 plus learning opportunities, to folk music and s’mores by the campfire, to collaboration with GRANTMAKERS of Oregon and Southwest Washington, this conference was unique. Yet tradition matters. We worked tirelessly to ensure that the aspects of our convenings that matter to you were continued: exploring, understanding and respecting the changing and complex places where we work. We further offered a dynamic range of planned and in-the-moment discussions for such exploration to happen: from break-out sessions and intensive deep dives to the crowd-sourced Pop-ups and off-site Learning Tours, we were thrilled that attendees meaningfully engaged with each other in multiple conversations.  

Board Chair Sue Coliton and I were privileged to meet in small group settings with many members. While those meetings allowed us to share an update on Philanthropy Northwest, they most importantly provided us with the opportunity to listen to how we either are or could improve upon meeting our aspiration to be your indispensable regional philanthropic network. Here are a few important themes members shared:

  • Tell the organization’s story! Few knew that given the pace of change in society and our sector just how Philanthropy Northwest has been remaking itself over the past nine years.
  • Continue the exceptional member-focus (“PNW is the Nordstrom’s of staffs”)! 
  • Innovate new ways to create a stronger, more consistent presence in more places across the region. 
  • Continue to serve as an incubator of cross-sector and funder collaboratives.
  • Develop deeper relationships with state nonprofit associations and have them in the conversations (our sector can’t just talk to itself all of the time).
  • Continue to build reputation as a place where conversations about complex issues naturally occur in a timely, balanced and civil manner. 

We’re collecting detailed conference feedback now. At the highest level, evaluation respondents tell us that: 

  • 94% agreed or strongly agreed that they met new colleagues during the conference.
  • 92% indicated that the conference met their expectations. 
  • 90% rate the overall quality of the conference as very good or excellent.

Whether or not you were able to be in Sunriver, please visit the annual conference section of our website for the session notes, personal reflections, social media streams, photos and more

The conference would not have been possible without the generosity of both our amazing sponsors, including many Philanthropy Northwest members who made a special contribution this year, and our 2014 sustaining members.

Philanthropy Northwest is the home of Mission Investors Exchange, a national member network where philanthropic innovators exchange ideas, tools, and experiences to increase the impact of their capital. Philanthropy Northwest members Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust and Rasmuson Foundation are among the many foundations nationally that have led this quickly growing network over the past ten years.

Mission Investors Exchange is catalyzing the growth of foundations that have either embraced or are learning about  mission investing (or impact investing as it is now known in the broader capital markets), aligning their total financial capital more consistently with mission and deploying more of it in ways that go beyond traditional grantmaking.

Cool weather greeted a sold-out crowd of almost 400 community, corporate and private philanthropists, high net worth individuals, family offices, advisors and government philanthropic liaisons from around the country who traveled to Minneapolis – St. Paul for the 2014 biennial conference, Sparking Change

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges welcomed the conference attendees. The core themes of collaboration and deploying philanthropic capital to address key societal issues of climate change and inequality were reinforced by plenary speakers former Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), One Pacific Northwest Bank CEO Kat Taylor, Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek, Root Capital founder / CEO Willy Foote and Nonprofit Finance Fund CEO Antony Bugg-Levine.

It is clear that this is now a conversation that no longer revolves primarily around traditional philanthropy. While philanthropy (and the flexible, risk tolerant nature of its capital) still has an important role to play in catalyzing broader adoption, the number of new entrants not associated with philanthropy is leading to a quickly changing environment marked by significant experimentation. 

Within philanthropy, the most significant shift is the dramatically higher level of interest demonstrated by community foundations. They were well represented in Minneapolis – St. Paul and contributed valuable new energy, thought leadership and advocacy for the power of place-based strategies.

At the next Mission Investors Exchange conference, I’m betting that we will be joined en masse by the 28 philanthropic liaisons from across the federal agencies.