In honor of our association’s 20th anniversary and the passionate leaders who have helped us grow along the way, we are pleased to launch a regular blog series dedicated to the reflections of our founders, early board members, and others with long careers in philanthropy. What has changed in the field—and in their giving—over the past decades? What has remained the same? Join us at the 2016 National Conference, September 26-28 in Chicago, to celebrate our milestone anniversary >>
Wow! The 20th anniversary of our organization!! What a great time for reflections.
Twenty years ago I thought philanthropy was nothing more than writing a check and waiting for that warm and fuzzy thank you letter. To be honest, it was that for me, and may still be for some organizations. But things changed for me 20 years ago.
About that time, my wife Judi and I were struggling on our own in the strange world of giving. We learned about a group, at that time the Association of Small Foundations (ASF). We made contact and with great interest eagerly read its information material. Based on what we read, we registered to attend a meeting that the organization sponsored on the campus of a Catholic seminary, just outside of Chicago, in Mundelein, Illinois.
For those not familiar with that meeting, allow me to share our experience with you.
If memory serves me correctly, it was the coldest winter weekend ever recorded. The snow never stopped falling during our entire stay, and the wind howled throughout the night as we tried to sleep on concrete beds covered with straw mattresses. It was a seminary, after all.
The Mundelein meeting was an eye-opening experience for us. We learned that we were not alone and that there were other like-minded small foundation people who believed that there was more to philanthropy than just check writing. For us, the association became a venue in which we could share ideas and information with others, and collaborate for the good of the grantees we support. It was the beginning of a meaningful and productive relationship between small foundations and ASF.
At that time the banner said ASF. Now it reads Exponent Philanthropy. Because of this organization, we, its members, can be more aware of all things philanthropic from the discussions in Congress to the voices in grassroots organizations. Further, with the help of Exponent Philanthropy and its many educational resources, we have the ability to provide the next generation of funders with the knowledge that will help to make them better board members and managers for their foundations. We have become more open-minded to their thoughts and philosophies about better serving the communities we support.
Another change, I believe, is our interest in education funding. In the past the primary focus was on support to institutions of higher learning. Now, however, we know that education at the preK-12 level is recognized as being crucial to preparation for life experiences as well as being better prepared for the college experience, and higher learning.
Today’s technology has given us the ability to streamline our operations and better manage our information. As an example, we can research a charity in minutes. We have instant communication between our grantees and our foundation. The fact that a grantee has immediate access to us can enhance our relationships, making us better partners in helping them reach their stated objectives.
On a personal note, Judi and I believe strongly in reviewing outcomes and site visits. If a grant request is for a specific goal, we like to know the method that will be used to achieve that goal and how its success or failure will be measured. To us, site visits are important because it gives us the opportunity to learn firsthand, and not just from what the grant writer wrote, the workings of any group we support. We meet the people responsible for operating the organization, and, in many cases, the people they serve. At the same time, we have learned from experience that the staff of the grantee organizations enjoy the opportunity to share their stories with potential funders.
Coming full circle, yes, there are still some “check writers.” But what a wonderful evolution of giving for those who have become more actively involved.
Patrick DeMoon is a former Exponent Philanthropy (then ASF) board member and current president of The Kara Foundation in Las Vegas, NV. The foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals and focuses primarily on health, education, and social welfare.