US Private Giving Field Trip 2014: Day Five

Jenny Wheatley from The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation explores key learnings from the Exponent Philanthropy 2014 National Conference.

In a circle of sixty or so CEO’s of smaller US Foundations we were encouraged to share the challenges we face while balancing our different hats as grant maker, convener, collaborator, negotiator and so on. 

A list of top ten tips for achieving balance was developed through small group exercises. I was struck by the willingness to contribute by smaller organisations in such a large forum. This mirrored the experience we had with the New York City ‘brand’ Foundations who were similarly generous with their valuable time and open with their thoughts.  

In a room with over 1,000 delegates we heard from panelists Kim Jordan, Gabriel Kasper, James Shelton and Patty Stonesifer; discussing the impact of social trends on government, business and philanthropy.

We heard that there are very few philanthropists without an opinion - the good ones allow their prospective to be informed by their learnings and research.

We continued the discussion with James Shelton over lunch who encouraged us to keep gathering the data and convening meetings of the valuable contributors to key issues. James explained that one of the great difficulties Government faces is they cannot hold small meetings - there is a need to invite everyone to the table.

Speaking about the program President Obama is championing, My Brother’s Keeper, James explained that this encourages communities (cities, rural municipalities, and tribal nations) to implement a coherent cradle-to-college-and-career strategy for improving the life outcomes of all young people to ensure that they can reach their full potential, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or the circumstances into which they are born. It will be interesting to watch how after his term in office President Obama chooses to engage in philanthropy given the significant contributions of his predecessors.

After talking to a number of exhibitors at afternoon tea, many of the Sydney contingent caught up with Emily Tow Jackson (a good friend of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation). Emily facilitated a session, which provided the tools and encouragement to invite community voices to guide philanthropic work.  

Emily discussed the challenges she has faced in encouraging directly affected people into the conversation (including engaging with people outside the regular work day and in different environments), overcoming a fear of loss of control, giving up on our bias and the perception that we know best and honing effective listening skills.

On the last official evening of the field trip the group were treated to a priceless experience. All polished up, we avoided dubious Halloween celebrations and joined the Honorable Ambassador to the United States of America, Kim Beasley and his smart, sassy wife Suzie Annus at ‘our house’ the Ambassador’s residence in Washington.

Pre-dinner drinks were held in a beautifully decorated room with breath taking indigenous art and stunning flower displays, generously we were encouraged to explore ‘our’ other rooms.

We moved to the dining room to be served the best meal I have eaten since I left home. Susie assured us she had been cooking all day. Conversation flowed freely and with plenty of laughter, predications about the next American president, the uniqueness of the Internal Revenue Service, stories about Gough Whitlam and the differences between Australian and American philanthropy. 

Written by Jenny Wheatley from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation​.

Nov. 02, 2014

 Tags: us private giving field trip 2014

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