If not us, then who?
September 18th, 2007I am attending the annual Council on Foundations' Fall Conference for Community Foundations in San Francisco and the buzz around this meeting revolves around the critical leadership role of community foundations! No surprise there - nary a word about the fashions at the Emmys!
Seriously, our communities do deserve the leadership from community foundations which means displaying attributes such as boldness, compassion and action! This is not new behavior for community foundations - and I don't quite understand why it is sometimes viewed that way.
So my cautions for the field:
#1: We are returning to our roots and this should not view this as new ground as it is returning to who we really are. And this leadership role is not just exclusive to our grantmaking staff - but needs to permeate throughout our organizations in everything we do from our donor relations staff, our boards and the President!
#2: Beware the naysayer - the people who don't quite understand that this has EVERYTHING to do with providing value to our communities - it isn't the "flavor of the month". And it will draw people to our foundations. From community investors (donors) to other leaders.
#3: As Lucy Bernholz (Congrats to her and the launch of the Giving Channel) and Katherine Fulton have emphasized in their critical report "On the Brink of New Promise", it is imperative that community foundations demonstrate needed leadership in our communities across this country.
I am reminded of an experience I had last year when asked by a colleague to present to the board of a community foundation she directs situated in a city similar in size to Grand Rapids about the importance of setting a dynamic course for their foundation. Making sure that I delivered what my friend asked for, I described how they may want to venture forward in their community revealing the vision, mission and four strategic strategies that set the course for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
One of our strategies is: "Lead significant social change". After my presentation, I was met with stunned silence. I took a deep breath and asked if there were any reactions? Well - one of the board members and one of the few females - said the following: "Your strategy regarding leading significant social change is arrogant at best. How can you even say that - what gives you the right?" While I expected a reaction, I did not expect that strong of a reaction - I cannot replicate the tone of the question asked in writing but it was not said softly.
My answer focused on the fact that our board embraced this and in fact they think it is important for us. I said it may not fit your board and culture but it does fit ours and left it at that. On the plane home I knew I didn't answer the question well at all and should have said, "If not us, then who?"
Leadership does not always need to be confrontational but it is needed today more than ever before. Community foundations are uniquely positioned to be the leaders they need to be and frankly many have done so for many, many years!