#SDGcon Recap Wrap Up

Monday, March 13, 2017

At our annual conference, we found out what it means for philanthropy to “Take A Stand.” Through inspiring speeches and thought-provoking breakout sessions, a few common themes emerged across the day, including the need to tell our own stories well, to truly listen to the stories of others, and to continually build trust in our communities.

Gara LaMarche opened the conference speaking on “Who We Are – How Philanthropy and Civil Society Tell America’s Story – And Our Own.” LaMarche stressed why it is so important, “as all throughout America people consider how to take a stand for what is most important to them – about their values, their communities, their country – to listen to those unmediated voices and to support the institutions which give them a platform.” LaMarche encouraged attendees to counter racist and xenophobic rhetoric with statistics and facts, and said “you must also counter them with better, truer stories.”

During our plenary session on “Taking A Stand,” panelists Ellen Gustafson, Summit Institute; Amy Lesnick, Pledge 1%; Michael McAfee, Policy Link; Eric Ward, Southern Poverty Law Center; and Emily Young, University of San Diego discussed speaking for those without a voice, asking who’s being left behind, creating opportunities, and creating new systems that support success for all.

The “What It Takes to Walk the Full Cost Walk” breakout session began with understanding the breadth of what the full cost really means for both nonprofits and for funders. There are issues of trust on both sides of the equation. How can funders earn enough trust to have the full cost conversation? If nonprofits adopt the full cost idea, how can they convince funders to believe their calculations? To accumulate meaningful data, the process of moving to a full cost model will require education of both funders and nonprofits. Note - stay tuned for SDG’s workshops on full cost with Nonprofit Finance Fund later this year. 

The “Islamophobia: All the Powers at Play and its Impact on Community Cohesion” brought the issue to life both locally and nationally. Imam Taha from the Islamic Center of San Diego highlighted the damage Islamophobia does to the social structure of our society, keeping Muslims from partaking in civic life and our social fabric. The panel also contextualized the problem’s impact on national security and explored what role the federal government should play in finding a solution. Finally, Eric Ward of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and formerly of the Ford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, spoke to why philanthropy should care about Islamophobia and what philanthropy can do to create environments and investments that will have the most impact.

In "Your Foundation, San Diego, and Philanthropy at Their Best" we found out that just 16% of all grant dollars go toward general operating support over multiple years. Dan Petegorsky of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argued that figure should be closer to 50%, because foundations should see that those working on the ground know how to solve problems better than they do. A persistent fear of potential grantee dependence and lack of progress often hinder funder-grantee relationships. The panel, which included Khalid Paul Alexander, Pillars of Community; Julie Dubick, Women’s Foundation of California; and Kevin Malone, San Diego Organizing Project, suggested additional ways to provide greater support and build community such as increasing discretionary funding, encouraging advocacy, and partnering with grantees. Grantmaker's staffs are informed thought partners, but they shouldn’t tell grantees what to work on. One way to build trust and respect between funders and grantees is to create a relationships outside of the funding cycle and invest some reputational capital as well by engaging on issues publicly.

Many of the themes of openness and trust were echoed in “Developing Authentic Relationships with Nonprofits and Community Members.” Panelists warned that the epidemic of feedback does not equal follow through. Again, we heard that there is a big differential between what nonprofits feel like they can ask and what funders feel they can. Overall, the benefits of engaging grantees more deeply are clear through better outcomes, better understanding of grantee needs, and increased sustainability and accountability. Warren Ruis of San Diego Gas & Electric said, “Think of yourselves as more than funders, more as strategists.” Smaller organizations tend to be hesitant to reach out to funders, but comfortable connecting with other nonprofits. Ruis suggested community meetings, such as those held by San Diego Gas & Electric’s Community Advisory Council, could be a good way to connect, though the meetings must be mutually beneficial. The panel challenged attendees to invest the time in relationship building – because of the power differential between funders and their grantees; "if we want to improve this, it’s on us!” said Meghan Duffy of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.

The day closed with Vu Le, author and founder of Nonprofit With Balls, and Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, speaking on “How the Nonprofit Sector Must Adapt in Light of the Coming Apocalypse.” Le points to a data-resource paradox that leaves out disadvantaged communities. Funders don’t invest in organizations or communities until they have data to prove they should, but often times those communities can’t get the resources to get the data. It’s a cycle that excludes marginalized communities. “You are using the lantern to find the light,” Le said, but “You are holding the light.”

Thank you to all those who came out to the event and to all our sponsors who made the event possible. We believe that going forward San Diego philanthropy can Take A Stand together and we’ll be stronger for it.

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