Summer has come to an end, and while there were fewer restrictions than in the past, I still found it difficult to rejoice in the long days, ocean breezes, or spontaneous gatherings with friends. Too much of the last two years of COVID behavior still lingers around us, much like an old friend who has overstayed their welcome. Personally, it often feels easier to stay home and seclude ourselves instead of actively cultivating new connections and renewing old friendships. Professionally, many of us feel like we’re on autopilot and just going through the motions.
This is why I was so grateful to share space with SCG’s family philanthropy community at our 2022 Annual Family Conference, Navigating Transitions: Redefining Traditions. After two years of convening virtually, we had the opportunity to leave our homes, reconnect, and learn in person for one day. After so long, we finally broke away from the stasis and monotony of the last two years.
This year’s conference also proved to be the perfect outlet to share and discuss the tensions emerging for many of us over the past two years. Our theme, Navigating Transitions: Redefining Traditions, explored the many ways family philanthropy is changing and how this is not a moment to dwell on the past but to see abundant future possibilities for creativity and impact. Our speakers were articulate and passionate in their comments; our participants were engaged and happy. I found it heart-warming to hear laughter and excitement from those reconnecting after so many months.
The summer months have given me time to reflect on the conference, especially some takeaways that continue to shift my thinking from long-held traditions to transitions full of potential. I want to share them with you.
Remember Who is Taking Risks
It’s NOT the funder — it’s the grantee. Bernadette Glen of the WHH Foundation wisely noted, “If you are worried about risk, what are you trying to protect?” This is not only a reminder of our priorities, but it also challenges our definition of risk. The Specialty Foundation has been focusing on affordable housing. As we all know, land is a priority in the LA region, and one major landowner is the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Through advocacy, networking, and creativity, the Specialty Foundation was part of a working group that convinced the Archdiocese to release seven parcels of land for affordable housing. This audacious plan will have a real impact!
Embrace the Chaos
This is where we can find creativity. June Wilson, our plenary session moderator, commented that we are in a time when “all the chips have been thrown up in the air and are currently suspended. We live in a liminal space right now, watching and waiting for them to fall. What does that space look like for your foundation or the communities you serve? What will you take forward?” If funders wait for the chips to fall, it might be too late for innovation and experimentation. Many family foundations have found strength, creativity, and camaraderie working in funder collaboratives, whether for homelessness, access to healthcare and well-being, or supporting racial justice. We are in a prime moment for a journey of continuous learning.
Follow the Youth and the Community
What better way to transition from ineffective traditions than to let the next-gen in family foundations be heard and take the lead? I feel there has been enough talk about engaging the next-gen. It’s time to give them real decision-making opportunities that let their creativity and sensibilities shape funding priorities, grantmaking, and policies. Trust-based philanthropy has shown us the advantages of having community members and organizations tell funders their needs. SCG’s member-led Funding with an Equity Lens Learning Group is helping family foundations understand systemic racism and barriers to racial justice by introducing them to community organizations and resources, all with the end purpose of creating more funding for BIPOC organizations.
Invest in Human Potential
We need more soul, connection, and love for our fellow people. No one is a more vigorous advocate of putting ideas into action than me - strategies matter. However, in the context of our times, remembering some fundamentals about human connection and purpose seem to help center me. We have recently heard about investing in health and wellness so our leaders can do their best work. The Durfee Foundation has been investing in human potential for many years. In addition to their Sabbatical Awards and Stanton Fellows Program, they recently launched the Springboard Fund, which invests in leaders and social entrepreneurs in communities most affected by tough challenges.
I invite you to relive our conference conversations by watching the recordings below of our Opening Plenary Session Aligning Your Foundation’s Values When Faced with Traditions and Transitions, with June Wilson, Carmella Castellano-Garcia, and Bernadette Glenn, and the Closing Plenary Session Evaluating Traditions & Leveraging Transitions to Reimagine Your Foundation’s Culture and Grantmaking with Jeff Schaffer, Alexis Marian, Farhad Ebrahimi, and Zayda Garcia.
As we transition to the fall, I feel this is an extraordinary time to reimagine the abstract and concrete, to find new opportunities for leveraging community investments, re-evaluating old processes and procedures, and igniting new leadership in our youth and community leaders. Please don’t hesitate to take the SCG team along as you explore the possibilities.
Moreover, I invite you to join SCG’s family philanthropy community for our annual winter event, Traditions of Giving, taking place virtually on Wednesday, November 2, from 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM. This year, Traditions of Giving will look deeper at a thread that arose during our 2022 Family Philanthropy Conference: the necessity of investing in human potential. Together, we will explore what supporting human potential looks like internally at our organizations and externally with our community partners. We will also outline the personal and professional investments we can make to strengthen the power and well-being of leaders moving our sector’s work forward.