Overheard in Philanthropy: In Person!

Overheard in Philanthropy: In Person!
August 5, 2022

Bold, curious, reflective, human. Here’s what we’ve been hearing this past quarter in philanthropy:     

The quotes below are from two in-person conferences that our team has attended this year: GEO’s 2022 National Conference and The United Philanthropy Forum’s 2022 conference.

"Move resources first. Talk second."

According to ABFE and Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity’s (PRE) research, 1.8% of philanthropic funding goes to Black-led organizations. In their Overlooked Part Two report, CEP shared that two-thirds of nonprofit leaders whose organizations primarily serve Native American communities reported that they did not receive new foundation funding in 2020. People are questioning how this is possible when racial equity has been at the center of many conversations across the sector and they’re pushing for action now. “I believe in having a Theory of Action over a Theory of Change,” one leader shared at the 2022 Forum Conference (ForumCon22). “Move resources first. Talk second,” another said.


“This is a 500-year arc of history. Racism, poverty – it’s not just going to end.”

The theme of examining and orienting ourselves to the arc of this work has surfaced time and again in various capacities. “I play the role of ancestor,” one session attendee shared. “I connect our history to our present while thinking about the future,” he continued. The timeframe of this challenging work where “there’s no hitting cruise control” has also highlighted the need to better support staff and leadership as we move forward together for the long haul. Finally, with this timeline in mind, we are beginning to see the unraveling of the ways in which we have traditionally thought about impact. 


“What is the metric except for this story that I am telling you?”

Given the long time frame of this work and the fact that at our core, we’re addressing complex human issues, leaders are turning to storytelling as a way to measure human impact. In a session at GEO’s 2022 National Conference (GEO22), one foundation staff shared the story of how a grantee partner utilized a portion of the funding that they received and gave back the rest once the impact had been achieved. When what’s needed for transformation and impact is not a one-size-fits-all solution, traditional metrics for impact feel insufficient. “What is the metric except for this story that I am telling you?” the staff member asked session attendees.


“If you’re scared to walk down the streets of the communities you’re serving, you might want to get a different job.”

How do we close the gap between philanthropy and community? At GEO2022 we saw foundations modeling different ways to bring community voice to the philanthropy table: one asked a grantee partner to sit on their board, another piloted a participatory grantmaking model led by staff who were representative of the communities they were serving. All attendees throughout the conference were challenged to look inwards and reflect on their privilege, power and role in working towards community-driven work.


“I worry that philanthropy is latching onto issues one by one, and not how they’re all weaved together.”

While philanthropy’s approach continues to be largely issue-based, we hear calls to action to recognize and address the larger frame behind society’s issues: power, systems and culture are core themes that continue to surface. “All the money in the world isn’t going to fix the issues. It’s about how we work to create systems that invite everyone to the table,” an attendee at ForumCon22 shared.


“Exploit the free wine!”

In a session at ForumCon22, an attendee reminded the group that with philanthropy’s privilege comes the responsibility of remembering and integrating joy. “This work is hard, but we can’t show up for our communities defeated and down. That doesn’t help anyone. We have to lean into the joy and carry it with us… Exploit the free wine!” they shared. Cue head nods and laughter from the rest of the group.


As a team we continue to be energized by the meaningful in-person spaces that we’ve shared together and with all of you.

This fall and winter you can catch us at Philanthropy Northwest’s PNW22 Illuminate in October in Seattle and the Mission Investors Exchange 2022 National Conference in December in Baltimore.

We hope to see you there!




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