Envisioning, planning, and seeing the 2021 Yale Philanthropy Conference (YPC) come alive has been the most enriching and grounding experience that my fellow co-chairs, Eloise Owens and Elena Bell, and I have had this past year. Themed Reimagining Philanthropy, the conference’s various sessions and keynotes aimed to examine philanthropy’s power and purposes; question its interplay with democracy, influence, and justice; and reimagine a sustainable, equitable, and resilient way forward.
Hosting the conference online afforded us the advantage of extending beyond our usual East Coast borders to not only the West Coast and other parts of the U.S., but also globally, to countries including Kenya, Australia, Spain, and India. Thanks to the virtual format, around 1,500 students, nonprofit leaders, grant-makers, businesspeople, and academics attended the conference, a five-fold increase from the conference’s historic in-person attendance. More than 60 speakers from across the world shared in the discussion, participating in 12 panels, two workshops, two keynotes, and a strategy session.
While each panel addressed a specific topic, a few common threads were raised throughout the day. Speakers emphasized the need for leaders in the social sector to identify and stick to their values, and for grant-makers to exercise greater empathy for their grantees—an idea that is central to trust-based philanthropy, of which the Friday keynote speaker Pia Infante has been one of the leading proponents. Other speakers discussed the urgent need for more equitable distribution of funds and power to communities that have historically and systematically been overlooked and those with lived experiences, and for the urgent need for new models of nonprofit finance to support more financially resilient organizations.
The Hopin streaming platform made it easy for attendees to explore the different sessions and connect with other attendees. Indeed, we were delighted to see the extent to which attendees used the platform’s chat feature to comment on the panels, ask questions of the speakers, and reach out to other attendees.
One priority of the conference this year was to engage the New Haven and Connecticut communities as much as possible. We view ourselves as members of the community and wanted to be sure to use our platform as a tool to support our neighbors. Several local nonprofit leaders spoke on panels, including Erik Clemons of ConnCAT and Ra of Mutual Aid Hartford, and we were intentional about inviting local nonprofit leaders to attend. To eliminate attendance barriers, we reduced our historic $80 to $100 ticket price to an optional $10 ticket, and instead encouraged attendees to make a donation to the Greater New Haven COVID-19 Community Fund. A highlight of the conference was a one-hour workshop led by the nonprofit Camp Equity titled “10 Ways To 100K,” which was attended by more than 80 local organizations. The workshop offered participants actionable tips for optimizing their resources and maximizing their funds to deliver greater impact.
This whole experience has reinforced my belief in the power of collective work driven by values and intent. We could not be more grateful for the larger student organizing committee and their ideas, integrity, and intention that made this conference meaningful. We’ve been thrilled to have MBA and EMBA students from the School of Management, as well as individuals from the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs be part of the 14-person team. The diversity of their perspectives and lived experiences, and their commitment and contribution towards the team’s core values, was key in making the conference content rich, radical, and relevant.
YPC originated out of a class at the Yale School of Management in the year 2004 and has been taking place almost every year since. Entirely student-run (but with gracious support from our advisory board), the conference is a responsibility we organizers hold close to our hearts and feel privileged shouldering. Organizing such a conference, particularly at this moment in history, housed in an institution like Yale, has taught me so much about wielding the power afforded to us by our privileges in the right manner. We’ve learned the value of being transparent and authentic in sharing our purpose and collectively shaping outcomes with all the stakeholders of this conference. We’ve been able to grow and stay accountable to our goals, thanks to the guidance, support, and empathetic feedback we received from our speakers, advisory board, and faculty. As we graduate and take on roles at the intersection of business and society, the lessons from this experience will remind us to constantly strive to be ethical, responsible, and inclusive leaders.