Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Spirit of Philanthropy Yet to Come

The EPIP pre-conference is dubbed "Innovation and Legacy: The Place of the Next Generation in Philanthropy" to evoke both the great changes a new generation of grantmakers will bring to the sector and the storied tradition they inherit and will eventually pass on to others. It's a look at philanthropy from a generational perspective, past, present, and future, so it's only fitting we next gens were visited by three spirits.

(My philanthropic education thus complete - and "A Christmas Carol" is nothing if not a man's philanthropic education - I plan to call room service tomorrow and demand the turkey as big as me.)

Host Committee Co-Chair Ann Cramer, Director of the Americas at IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, is every bit the gracious host in her thirty-second hello. Noting her affiliation, she reminded the up-and-coming EPIP attendees, some of whom are high school students, that philanthropic opportunities are available in the corporate world.

Cramer promised anything we might need for a successful pre-conference. She is, she said, "a voice, an advocate, and a friend" to the next generation.

In candid comments, Conference Committee Chair Kathy Merchant, President and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, marvelled at the diversity present in the room, remarking that one could put a similar number of people of her generation in the room "and we wouldn't look like you."

History's most diverse generation has come of age and not a moment too soon. As someone who has worked in the nonprofit world her entire professional life, Merchant noted the incredible challenges ahead for our nation and our world and wondered if the structures we have built would be sufficient to handle them.

"We've installed a lot of fences," added Council Board Chair Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Smith noted his admiration for how EPIP has been able to use generation to unite young people across the barriers erected between different types of grantmakers and between funders and nonprofits.

"It augurs well for our field," he said. "These barriers are not natural, and they're not inherent [to this work]."

Whether these obstacles remain a part of philanthropy will rest with those with the courage and the wisdom to break down the walls that keep those in the sector apart from one another.

"Not many in my generation know how to do that," Smith said.

All in all, this visit from the Council's leadership was both an impressive vote of confidence in the next gens assembled and a recognition of the power of the next generation's collective voice. It wasn't long ago that programs like this were unheard of. And if they did occur, they didn't always receive the welcome we did. That's an innovation I would like to see passed on.

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