A Year for “Firsts”

Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Communications Network and CommA Fall 2010 Conference in Los Angeles with the help of a blog team, which is part of the conference’s 2nd annual Gorilla Engagement Squad.  This is a guest post by Rebecca Arno, VP, Communications at The Denver Foundation.  Follow her Foundation on Twitter:  @tdfcommunity.

By:  Rebecca Arno

2010 was a year for firsts…the first time Communications Network and CommA, the association of community foundation communications professionals, held a joint conference.  The conference planners tried, for the first time, a structure that relied on plenary speakers and follow-up conversations.  And another first – for the Communications Network at any rate – we had a speaker talk about the role of living donors in the work of philanthropy.

This makes sense, since 2010 is also the year that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates issued their “Giving Pledge” to encourage wealthy Americans to give away significant portions of their assets.  And of course, those of us in community foundations work with living donors all the time.  Yet even the most well-endowed of private foundations will be hard-pressed to accomplish their goals without connecting to the vast resources – more than $200 billion – contributed each year by living donors.

Tracy Gary has been talking about how to motivate donors to give more and give wisely for years – she has started more than a dozen nonprofits and helped raise over $750 million for charitable purposes, including through the Women Moving Millions Program.  She talked about what life is really like for a donor who might become a partner in addressing a community need – they are deluged by information and overwhelmed by the needs they see and hear about.   Her advice – engage these donors and create real community for them, then empower them to build their own communities on behalf of your cause.

Tracy’s plenary speech was followed by a roundtable discussion for community foundations about building endowment.   While she shared additional ideas – including giving donors talking points and encouraging them to be partners in recruiting others – the majority of suggestions came from people in the circle.  The Hampton Roads Community Foundation is launching a bequest initiative; the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation is taking advantage of the Endow Iowa tax credit; and the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis has seen success with their Give $365 campaign.

While it may have been a year for firsts, this discussion brought back the long-known and deeply-held value of groups like the Communications Network and CommA: so much of the wisdom comes from the people in the room and the connections we make.  I’ve already seen this echoed in other blog posts…and look for it to continue and grow in the years to come, in both organizations.

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