Word on the Street from the Council on Foundations Conference

A long-time grant seeker and nonprofit staff person offers his impressions of a Council on Foundations conference.

Word on the Street from the Council on Foundations Conference
3 mins read

What really happens at an invitation-only grantmaker gathering?

When Pete Manzo, long-time grant seeker and nonprofit staff person, told us he was going to the Council on Foundations conference for the first time (two weeks ago), he sounded to us like a Connecticut Yankee anticipating going to King Arthur’s Court.

What really happens at this grant maker gathering where nonprofit folks can’t go except by invitation from a foundation? So when he returned we asked him what his impressions were.

Well, warm and intimate it wasn’t. It was HUGE — more than 3,000 people. The Gaylord Resort was cavernous, very new and lacking in soul. As Lucy Bernholz said, it was disorienting to hear people talking about environmental issues in a setting that seemed to waste energy and water and to have been designed to siphon off revenue from the nearby DC urban area.

People look at your badge to see where you work. Mine said “National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy” [where he’s on the board] which I assume branded me as a left-wing outsider.

Some of the plenary things were quite good, especially a panel on human rights – which was said to be the first time that human rights has been a plenary subject at the Council.

The main point made was that there shouldn’t be any tension between human rights and economic development.

Instead of “first economic development, then political development,” the idea is that they grow together. [In a different session] I liked Bob Ross’ point [of The California Endowment] that innovation is over-subscribed in philanthropy.

The sessions I went to weren’t very good. They pretty much all use a panel framework and they’re dull.

It was interesting that a session on diversity in philanthropy was packed – maybe 200 people, but then a session the same day on how to collect and use data to diversify only drew 15 people.

So I guess they’re interested in talking about the issue but not getting data to address the issue.

Another thing that made a strong impression on me was the number of young, progressive philanthropoids such as EPIP (Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy) and Resource Generation. Their energy seemed to stick out, which is a good thing. There is also a new Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative.

All in all, I expected it to be more different than it was. It was pretty unremarkable. Now I know.

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