Letter to COF Conference Attendees


Philanthropy411, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Holly Wolfe, Environmental Sustainability Program Associate at  The Russell Family Foundation.

by Holly Wolfe

Dear COF Conference Attendees,

There is a movement happening that I implore you to learn about (if you aren’t aware already). It is a body of work ten years in the making, standing on the shoulders of philanthropic institutions created and social progress achieved over the last century.

You may have heard about us. We call ourselves “Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy” or “EPIP.” The acronym might sound bubbly and light, like a bird chirping in your ear. Well, let me spell out the power behind these four letters: EPIP is more than chirping and more than making noise; we are a chorus for change.

Over the last three days a group of young, talented and diverse leaders came together for the 2011 EPIP National Conference. We traveled from all over the United States (and a few other nations) to:

  1. Wrestle with some of today’s most pressing philanthropic, public, social and institutional issues;
  2. Hear from forward-thinking leaders within philanthropy, federal government and the non-profit sector;
  3. And create a safe space of inclusivity and empowerment from which to view, discuss and analyze our work in this field and in the world.

Some of us personally paid our way to be here (on emerging salaries nonetheless!). Others of us lobbied for professional development funds to attend. A few of us received generous EPIP scholarships. Still, countless more of us logged in online and participated in the entire conference via live-stream video and interactive chat.

We heard from and networked with each other as peers. But we also heard from a collection of seasoned philanthropic leaders who served as plenary speakers. These individuals bravely tore off the veils of money, power, race, class, gender, and sexuality and spoke to us with incredible honesty and grit. They made us laugh and they moved us to tears.

We listened intently as Emmett Carson, Gabriel Kasper and Terry Odendahl stressed the difference between social change and social justice and how (frankly) not enough foundations are committed to the latter (can we get an AMEN?!). We must be patient though, they told us, it takes a while for things to change.

We sat with bated breath as Sandra Vargas, Sherece West, Sterling Speirn, Urvashi Vaid and Daniel Lee invited us into their personal leadership journeys which have culminated in the influential positions they hold today. And let me tell you, they got personal! Sexism, racism, ageism, classism, and homophobia – collectively they’ve faced every kind of fire along the way. But they pushed onward because the work of change – of social justice, of alleviating poverty, of fighting racism, of civil rights – is the work they’ve committed not only their careers to, but their lives to.

Stick together, these seasoned leaders urged us, dynamic individuals can make small changes, but a cult of individuals can lead a movement. And “stick together” we have! We celebrated EPIP’s 10th anniversary during this conference. Just a decade after EPIP was birthed by a few visionary emerging leaders during a COF conference, 11 local chapters around the nation have sprung up and now convene regularly to carry out this work. We’ve come so far, and yet we’re just getting started.

Contrary to the popular saying, we are not the next generation – we are the now generation. We are standing beside you, amongst you, next to you and behind you in this work. We are ready to build (and help you build) more open, collaborative, diverse, transparent, effective and multi-generational organizations. We are ready to lead and to follow.

In the next ten years, there will be bumps along the road. We don’t want to do things the way they’ve always been done in philanthropy. We want to challenge assumptions –yours, others, and our own. We want to learn from you, not just from your successes, but from your mistakes. Tell us about the times you’ve fallen flat on your face. Tell us what you’re most scared of. Tell us what keeps you up at night. Tell us the change you have yet to see. Tell us why you do this work.

We want to share with you; our opinions, our ideas, our experiences, our struggles and our inspirations. We want to push back on you, to manage up to you, to ask you bold questions. And we want to be challenged by you in return – to build our skill-sets, to use our voices, to take risks, to push ourselves beyond where we thought we could go.

With you, we can fund, support and lead today’s critical movements – especially those where social justice issues are at stake. With you, we can learn from the past and prepare for the future. With you, we can merge our multi-generational collective wisdom to take us all further than we’ve gone before.

We hope your gathering is as inspiring for you as ours was for us. Enjoy your time together this week and while you do, keep EPIP in your thoughts.


Holly Wolfe
The Russell Family Foundation
Seattle EPIP Chapter Steering Committee

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Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2010.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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