Powering Communities – A Great Beginning

Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Fall Conference for Community Foundations with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Monica Patten, President and Chief Executive Officer, Community Foundations of Canada.

By:  Monica Patten

Coming to you from the fall conference for community foundations – number 14 for me, at least – I realized that while many of the opening plenaries in the past have had a focus on the future, I don’t recall one that took us to new ways of thinking, being, and doing as much as today’s did. Somewhere Over the Horizon…for Community Foundations introduced us to the vision and in fact, the day-to-day work of four thoughtful leaders in philanthropy. What I really liked about the session was the look into the future: not a scary or overwhelming look because their messages included helpful and practical ways we can think about the future, but a look ahead that made me, for one, realize that we in community foundations need to be right on top of trends in philanthropy and in our rapidly changing landscape if we want to stay in the game.

Technology is a big game changer. Carleen Rhodes told us about Givmin.org, a collaborative initiative in Minnesota; Charles Best inspired us with DonorsChoose.org which connects donors to innovation in schools. Chris Page helped us understand how connected we all are and how we have to be “always recalculating”, while Barbara Kibbe reminded us of the importance of coordination and adaptation while keeping our eye on strategy, effectiveness and responsiveness.

I went away energized, off to a session on community indicators in which I was a presenter. About 150 people gathered to hear how good solid data can help a community foundation focus its work in community leadership, granting and fund development, and perhaps most importantly engage the community in identifying and tackling its most pressing issues. I heard from my co-presenters what terrific indicator work is going on their foundations (Boston, Erie and Spartanburg) and added the Canadian touch. I was surprised and thrilled to learn that numerous community foundations in the US are engaging in indicator work and even more excited to learn of their appetite to do some collaborative work, such as all releasing their indicator reports on the same day, as we do in Canada with our national Vital Signs program. Who knows – this indicator work might become a great cross border program!

I came away from the morning thinking about borders and boundaries and possibilities. So much of what I heard was not limited to one town or one region or even one country. Technology makes it possible for us to go beyond geographic boundaries. Understanding context – ours and that of others – helps us to think about what works best for us but how our work is connected to the lives of others. Having access to good data helps us to “always recalculate”. Knowing that colleagues are doing the same kind of work as we are is not only affirming of our own work but opens up huge possibilities for collaboration so we can have greater impact on some of the systemic issues that can’t be fully addressed one community at a time – they need collective action and a collective voice. I heard some hints of a new spirit of working together with new tools and new resources throughout the morning – and that makes for an exciting future!

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