Vikki Spruill on Connecting for Good

Council on Foundations President & CEO, Vikki Spruill, delivered theses remarks on Tuesday, September 24, at the 2013 Fall Conference for Community Foundations.

Good morning! It is a great pleasure for me to be here addressing such a tremendous group of colleagues and friends.

I want to begin by thanking all of you for joining us here in San Diego!

This year’s conference theme, “Connecting for Good,” is meant to underscore the important ways that community foundations connect with the public every day.

This conference is only the beginning. None of these events are meant to be definitive capstones. Instead, we are beginning conversations and making connections that will continue in your communities, your offices, and your board rooms.

I hope that you will all join me in expressing thanks to the terrific team that put together this unique conference. I’d ask that the following please stand. I’d like to thank the volunteer team and especially John Kobara, for his leadership of their efforts. I also want to express my gratitude to the San Diego Community Foundation and San Diego Grantmakers for supporting our conference planning.

At the Council, our conference team, led by Renee Branch, Chris Goett, and Edward Jones, have been working for months to make this gathering both meaningful and fun. Will you all please join me in expressing your gratitude to everyone who made this conference possible?

The process of building a networked conference of this size and scope allows the Council to hear from a variety of community leaders. This event draws its vitality from all of you. Community foundations are present in the lives of the people they serve, and you have a unique vantage point to understand the challenges and opportunities in your local environments.

From Jacksonville to Flint to Portland to Milwaukee, I’ve seen firsthand, the impact you‘re having. Community foundations are creating opportunity for families, building safe communities, and working toward equity in society for all people.  You are combating poverty, promoting creative expression, and preparing a 21st century workforce through education and training opportunities.

Out of this great bustle of activity, one truth emerges. With intelligent direction and a passion for improving the lives of others, great work gets done every... single... day. The real value of philanthropy lies, not in how much funding we have invested, but with the ultimate benefits for the child going to school well-fed, the teen getting scholarship support for college, the beautiful coastal ecosystem that gets preserved for the next generation, the family that gets to remain in a safe home, and the veteran going to work retrained and ready for the jobs of the future... thanks to your local efforts.

As I’ve often said, this work is NOT about us…It’s about the impact we create together and the work you do to uplift your communities.

The last year has been busy.  The Council has hosted four major conferences, transformed our governance structure, launched several studies, created new toolkits for community foundations, fought back serious and organized attacks to charitable giving, and continued to provide the valuable day to day services, like legal guidance and national standards accreditation, you’ve come to expect from the Council. We have done all this while also modernizing for the 21st century. I never realized candles had this many ends to burn, and I’m sure you often think the same thing.

Yet, I go to the office every day with a smile because I know what an impact you make in advancing the common good.  You work with donors so their good intentions become reality; you convene local leaders and elected officials; and you inspire leadership and mutual respect in your neighborhoods when others cannot.

These tasks are not easy, and just as the Council is modernizing its business model to better serve its members, many of you are asking how you must adapt to better lead and serve your community. Like you, we are a mission-drive nonprofit, so we understand your need for more resources.  This morning’s plenary is about just that and how we can leverage the network of Council members and others to share the best and brightest ideas out there.

Community foundations -- all of you here today -- play a vital role in shaping, defining, and advancing the entire field, in large part because of your “on the ground, real time, and real life” expertise.

Every day, you must respond thoughtfully to the needs of those around you, and that is a profound commitment.

You have a unique relationship with your communities. While businesses may diversify or outsource, and while politicians may come and go from office, your community foundations remain rooted in the places they serve.

You have to wrestle with the deep and systemic challenges facing your states, your counties, and your neighborhoods as well as emergencies, disasters and unexpected challenges that can devastate a community without warning.

Instead of thinking about the next election or the next business cycle, you must think of the next generation.

Community foundations don’t prospect for hope, they build it.

And, because you are an entry point for a diverse pool of donors, residents and community leaders, you embody the richness and dynamism of the field.

At the Council, we believe that our principal responsibility is to create an environment that fosters philanthropic growth, independence, and innovation.

To meet this responsibility, the Council on Foundations is adapting to new demands and priorities that come from a shifting ecosystem

The Council will continue its strong work on behalf of community foundations, because what you do matters. Your work uplifts our work. Your work is the business of our lives.

I’ve spoken with many of you – and by many, I would estimate I’ve had hundreds of individual conversations within the last year. I’ve also relied heavily on the strong support and guidance of several members of our board of directors who are also community foundation leaders. I’d ask that the members of the board from community foundations stand and be recognized. Kevin Murphy, Will Ginsberg, Grant Oliphant, Diana Sieger, Carla Roberts, Antonia Hernandez, Javier Soto, Terry Mazany, and Sherry Ristau.

The Council on Foundations will continue its support for community foundations, and just as changing dynamics within your communities cause you to find new ways to anticipate and respond to needs, so too must the Council change to provide value to our community foundation members.

Just this weekend, the Community Foundation Leadership Team has decided to reconstitute itself as an advisory group to the Council. The work of the CFLT has contributed significantly to our success, and in many ways, the prominent place of community foundations within the Council today is thanks to them. Going forward, the Council’s continued collaboration with community foundation leaders in this advisory capacity will be essential for the success of the field.

The Council continues to provide top tier services to our community foundation members in impactful public policy, sophisticated legal information, meaningful national standards, relevant and timely field research, marketing the value of philanthropy, and targeted professional development.

I want to take this opportunity to show you exactly how we are strengthening our community foundation support capabilities.

Let me be specific.

Over the last eight months, the Council has built a dynamic team that has expanded our capacity and each of these new additions strengthens our ability to deliver for you.  From executive level hires to the administration of email discussion groups, we continue to provide the support you need.

At the executive level, Will Heaton and Renee Branch bring over a decade of combined experience at the Council, and I want to recognize their efforts to ensure that services have remained in place. We’ve also hired Vince Rodriguez as Vice President of Member Experience. For over 20 years, he has created world class conferences and meetings, including the historic U.S. Conference on AIDS.   I can’t wait to see him work his magic on the Centennial conference next year for Community Foundations!  Jesse Salazar has recently joined as our Vice President of Communications. He previously ran government affairs for the country’s largest Hispanic business association and worked for the Secretary of Agriculture on rural development. 

In public policy, our experienced staff is constantly working on the Hill, in federal agencies, and at the White House to ensure that the bipartisan interests of philanthropy are represented, including the particular concerns of community foundations, like the IRA rollover. We understand the imperative to provide a clear voice for philanthropy to policymakers. We have been working strategically to build a substantial network of relationships, alliances, and coalitions to support our efforts.

Many of you know Sue Santa, our Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Legal Affairs who came to the Council early this year from the Philanthropy Roundtable and who is an accomplished attorney in her own right. 

Just this month, Katherine LeBeau joined us as our new Policy Analyst after her time as a Presidential Management Fellow at the White House. Katherine brings a rich work experience and impressive academics as an attorney to the Council’s policy team.

Many of you know and have worked with Stephanie Powers, the Council’s chief liaison to the executive branch and federal agencies.  Yesterday on the deck of the Midway, we highlighted some of the great work she’s done in building support for wounded warriors and the families of our men and women in uniform. 

I know that the Council’s strong reputation in the legal arena was built over many years and with the hard work of our talented predecessors, our own members, and colleagues in the legal field. 

We are doubling down on our commitment to give our members the most up to date and useful legal information, while upholding the high standards you have come to know. We’ve nearly completed an extensive review of all of our legal offerings – from publications to one-on-one consultation – to update, modernize and improve your access to our work in this area. 

Suzanne Friday, our in-house Counsel, joined us in the spring from her career in private practice and as an adjunct law professor. An additional attorney will be added to the team before the end of the year.

Next, we take great pride in the national standards portfolio that resides at the Council. We continue to support the accreditation process and to market its value throughout the field. To that end, just last week Lara Kalwinski joined our team. She will augment the work Daria Teutonico is doing to revise and update the standards process. Lara, also an attorney, comes with experience in both community foundations and public charities, having last served as Vice President of the Legacy Foundation, a leading community foundation in Indiana.

Our new team builds on the best of the past and the promise of the future.

Internally at the Council, we are providing greater value for our members by creating more comprehensive services.  We have busted down our silos and organized ourselves, so that we may take better advantage of the full knowledge of the staff.  Our community foundation experts, like Chris Goett, Lara Kalwinski, Ericka Plater Turner, Daria Teutonico and Suzanne Friday, now cross train other staff so more of our team understands community foundations and this team is learning more about other Council members, so they can glean innovation from private or corporate funders for the benefit of community foundations.

Top talent is essential to the entire field, and that’s why professional development remains a Council priority. The Center for Community Foundation Excellence courses continue, and here too, we are looking at new ways to make these learning opportunities more accessible.

In a network mindset, our work with affinity and professional groups is even more important.  For example, we are working with CF Leads to put meaningful resident engagement at the center of community leadership.

In conjunction with partners, we will continue providing research and publications that can inform your efforts and provide leadership to the field. In particular, we will work with CF Insights to provide an annual report on community foundation assets, gifts, and grants. The Cambridge quarterly investment study provides specific information on community foundation investments to help you better understand the investment environment.

Later today, we will launch the Community Foundation Field Guide to Impact Investing with Mission Investors Exchange. This comprehensive resource for community foundations will assist you in making investments that seek both a social and a financial return.  This project began as a small gathering at our office last summer, and because of the collaboration of several major organizations, you will have these cutting edge tools at your fingertips.

I especially want to thank Kathy Merchant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Stuart Comstock-Gay from the Vermont Foundation, and Laura Tomasko from the Council team for the sound leadership they have shown on this project.

Finally, we are entering the Centennial year marking the creation of Community Foundations. These critical organizations began when Frederick Goff and his peers created the Cleveland Foundation, currently under the bold leadership of Ronn Richard. He and his team should be recognized for their important work and contributions to the field.

I’d also like to recognize Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust whom you heard discuss Here for Good. This book is full of rich case studies that show why our work matters.  In a few moments, you will hear from Gabriel Kaspar of Monitor/Deloitte about What’s Next for Community Philanthropy.   Efforts like these will be marketed by the Council, and it is in telling the stories of your impact that community philanthropy comes to life.

We also need your help to tell these stories and make the Centennial a success. That’s why... with the Council of Michigan Foundations and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, we are partnering on a Centennial Toolkit to help spread the word about the good work you do every day. I hope that you will make use of that tool, and use it to tell your stories to a wider audience.

Your work is at the heart of my vision for the Council.  Your expertise and experience make you models of excellence for each other, so we are connecting our members with the colleagues and resources they need to make better philanthropic investments that will improve people’s lives.

 I’ve covered a lot of detail, and I thank you for your attention. I want to conclude by thanking all of you once again for the important work that you do. Philanthropy is a valuable and irreplaceable part of a social compact that affects our lives and the lives of those around us. As the people who make community foundations what they are, you embody the spirit of giving and communal caring that is at the heart of that social compact.

I want to close with a brief story of one person’s impact. Jacob Riis came to the U.S. in 1870 with $40 he’d borrowed from a friend. It brought him to New York where he lived in the tenements of the Lower East Side. He later became a pioneer of exposée journalism and social activism with the publication of How the Other Half Lives, a gripping portrait of the hardships faced by recent immigrants. The book galvanized a reform movement and showed how one man’s voice could change the way the country thinks about its people in need. 

Later in life, Riis would say “When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it.”

Riis knew the value of hard work, and he knew that our greatest efforts might not show immediate results. But if the stonecutter is not dissuaded by the perseverance of her rock, then philanthropy should not be dissuaded by the perseverance of its challenges. Because we strive to build great things, we must be prepared to labor for them.

Foundations strike at the great problems of our age. Each blow against hunger, each blow against environmental degradation, and each blow against injustice may seem small, but together we will craft a stronger society.

The Council is so proud to stand with you today, and I am sure that there are only great things to come.

2013 Fall Conference for Community Foundations Task Force

The Council on Foundations is a national nonprofit association of more than 1,700 grantmaking foundations and corporations. Our mission is to provide the opportunity, leadership, and tools needed by philanthropic organizations to expand, enhance, and sustain their ability to advance the common good.

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