What We Learned at Local Matters: Washington

November 25, 2015

Jeff Clarke, CEO

At Philanthropy Northwest, we believe philanthropy is most effective when we aspire to use our many forms of capital — experiential, human, financial, intellectual, material and social — to strengthen quality of life as we build vibrant, equitable and inclusive communities. This includes tapping the full power of our networks and relationships when either convening or participating in the conversations that are the lifeblood of a dynamic community.

Which practices do philanthropists need to hold space for these conversations? How can ­­­­­we better initiate, nurture and participate in conversations that engage communities in creating their own solutions? What are the challenges, risks and rewards of entering into open, authentic conversations that generate shared understanding and joint action? How do we determine whether it’s more appropriate to talk or listen?

The fifth stop on our Local Matters 2015 conversation series found us exploring these questions in Bellingham, Washington, with leaders from more than 100 organizations across the state. On November 3 and 4, Local Matters: Washington focused on philanthropy’s unique role as a convener, building on our Local Matters conversations in Wyoming ("Philanthropy is Right Next Door"), Idaho ("Philanthropy is Entrepreneurial"), Montana ("Philanthropy is Networks in Action") and Alaska ("Philanthropy is Indigenous Ways of Knowing").  

It also stood alone as a rich conversation for and by Washington, representing the challenges of convening increasingly diverse stakeholders in our communities and across our state: cities, islands and rural towns with populations that are changing dramatically. Half had attended the 2015 Washington Community Foundations Convening over the previous two days; we invited additional speakers and attendees representing not just foundations, but also nonprofits and government agencies, because we know that cross-sector conversations are essential to effective philanthropy.

We engaged participants with a range of styles, from panel discussions to design thinking projects, with expert facilitation from The Giving Practice — including bringing speakers into the audience for a "fishbowl" experience.


“I loved how the energy in the room changed when the panel about engaging with communities was moved off the podium and into a circle in the middle of the room,” said Audrey Haberman, managing partner of The Giving Practice.

Three things stood out for us:

  1. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: As powerfully illustrated in a presentation by Marc Baldwin, of Washington's Office of Financial Management, our demographics are changing. The historic news from Yakima’s City Council election the morning of our convening served to punctuate that change. These are the inexorable forces that are shaping our future, creating the community context in which philanthropy will work in the foreseeable future. Philanthropy Northwest is deeply committed to raising awareness about and stewarding this conversation.
  2. Impact Investing: We see a growing interest in impact investing, as philanthropy seeks to deploy more of its financial capital locally to work with other place-based investors to build community. Our region is a thriving ecosystem of impact investing; presentations by Davis Wright Tremaine and The Russell Family Foundation sparked additional interest in our network.
  3. Innovation: We heard participants eager to take more risks, try new models and view communities as partners and co-creators of change, rather than recipients of our support. As one participant observed in our closing discussion, “I came here to learn how to do better convening, but I learned that it’s more important to be invited to other people’s convenings.”

Thank you to Davis Wright Tremaine and our Local Matters series sponsors Foundant Technologies, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation for making Local Matters: Washington possible. While we will return to our regional conference format in Fall 2016, we believe all philanthropy is ultimately local. We look forward to and remain deeply committed to continuing — with partners — our exploration and celebration of philanthropy in its many innovative forms, in its natural habitat: the local community.

Visit our Local Matters 2015 page for more information about this series and Flickr for the photo albums.