Sleepless in Charlotte!


Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Fall Conference for Community Foundations with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Diana Sieger, President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.  Follow her foundation on Twitter: @GRCommFound.

By Diana Sieger

We all looked around the room and uttered, “What happens in Charlotte, stays in Charlotte!” to borrow a phrase from the Las Vegas ad campaign!  I’m talking about the opening dinner on Saturday, September 11th of the Annual CEONet Retreat (sponsored by the community foundation CEO Network) being held in Charlotte in advance of our Fall Conference.  Kudos to the CEO Retreat Planning Committee who include: Michael Batchelor, president, The Erie Community Foundation, Meredith Jones, president and CEO, Maine Community Foundation, Randy Royster, executive director, Albuquerque Community Foundation,  Sherry Risk Stark, president and CEO, Heritage Fund—the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

This is an opportunity to share with our colleagues our hopes, dreams, trials and tribulations; thus the promise to keep quiet! AND Sherry announced that the CEO Retreat attracted the largest group ever and there was a waiting list!  This retreat has grown tremendously since our early days in the late 1990’s.

HOWEVER, the planning team noted above did regale us with an entertaining musical number and “dance” called the Foundation Shuffle but that’s all I’ll say about it! Suffice it to say, new career paths are going to open up for Mike, Meredith, Randy and Sherry!

Why are we sleepless though? Emmett Carson, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, provided a provocative backdrop to our evening’s discussion.  He noted five key issues that are looming large for community foundations!  In summary they are:

1)    The notion of “community” has changed.  “Rootedness” has changed.  Community is not always place based like in the past.
2)    Legal regulations are more onerous leading a community foundation.
3)    There is increasing need for knowledge and sophistication as we go about the business of investments.
4)    Information technology and systems are growing at a rapid pace and we need get ahead of the curve.
5)    Our commercial competitors in the form of Fidelity and others are still a critical factor that requiring our attention even though the initial surprise of their existence back in the early 1990’s has diminished.

Emmett’s remarks certainly got my attention and I’m reminded of the extensive research, reports and tools developed by Lucy Bernholz, Katherine Fulton and Gabriel Kasper five years ago that led to a body of work entitled,   On the Brink of New Promise: The Future of U.S. Community Foundations. As noted on the following website,, their work noted 3 key principles:

  • From the institution to the community
  • From managing financial assets to long-term leadership
  • From competitive independence to coordinated impact

The C.S. Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation funded this ground-breaking research and many of us in the field provided commentary and insight as the report took shape. Actually, this was the brain child of Elan Garonzik who at that time was a program officer at the C.S. Mott Foundation.  His intent was to get community foundations prepared for what he described “the next Fidelity surprise” and how could we anticipate it and prepare for it!

The trends noted in On the Brink of New Promise, the subsequent reports along with Emmett’s astute summation of what we are now encountering can be viewed as opportunities for community foundation leaders.  We need to pay attention and certainly we cannot slip into the “oh we’ve always done it this way” mode!  Say that and watch the field wither away!

I’m sleepless in Charlotte but tremendously excited about our collective future!

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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