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Leading from Values: The 2019 Yale Philanthropy Conference

The 2019 Yale Philanthropy Conference (YPC) brought together hundreds of funders, non-profit leaders, and social entrepreneurs to consider the pressing challenges facing today’s leaders in the social sector. The 15th annual, sold-out event was organized under the theme “Values in Action” and showcased an array of speakers and panels related to the philanthropic and social sectors.

Though each session was distinct, several values-based themes emerged throughout the conference.

Rethinking Ecosystems: In her morning keynote, Anne Marie Burgoyne, Managing Director of Social Innovation at the Emerson Collective, described Emerson’s approach to giving. To address the complexity of issues related to economic opportunity, Emerson invests in catalytic organizations that can spark system-wide change. Burgoyne spotlighted portfolio organizations like XQ: The Super School Project, Chicago CRED, Baltimore Corps, and GirlTrek that are addressing the need for community-level involvement to drive lasting change.

During a panel titled “Building on Trust: Redesigning Funding Models and Funder-Grantee Relationships,” Allison Moomey SOM ‘14, Management Consultant at Robin Hood, explained how her organization is increasingly investing in ecosystem-based approaches to fighting poverty. Similarly, Marissa Guananja of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation expressed hopes that philanthropy will pay greater attention to building networks and movements, while Victoria Dunning of the Ford Foundation’s BUILD Program called for funders to consider how their philanthropy can broaden its impact.

Equity and Inclusion: Sherry Salway Black, Board Vice President of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and chairperson for First Peoples Fund, centered her afternoon keynote on the theme of reciprocity. Black, whose career spans leadership positions at numerous social sector organizations focused on Native American issues, described the generations of activists who enabled her career path and inspired her to empower future generations. When she identified inequities in funding for Native peoples’ work, she launched a grantmaking program to help local communities access capital. Because these communities are often too small to individually attract significant attention and resources, Black views her work as educating the world about Native communities and advancing their interests. But in a context as diverse as that of Native peoples, with more than 500 federally-recognized tribes, Black finds it both challenging and essential to educate herself about other tribes to be effective in her advocacy.

Lavastian Glenn also highlighted the importance of place-based diversity in the philanthropic sector during her lunchtime session, “Demystifying Rural Philanthropy.” As the Director of Racial and Economic Justice at The Nathan Cummings Foundation and co-chair of Grantmakers for Southern Progress, Glenn noted disparities in philanthropic dollars going to urban vs. rural communities. Funders, she believes, must understand the importance of place and be mindful of where funds are flowing if they wish to address opportunity limitations in rural areas.

Trust, humility, and collaboration: Conference speakers also addressed the power of cooperative partnerships. Frances G. Padilla, President of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, discussed her organization’s collaborative approach to increasing access to health care, building partnerships with small businesses, advocates, medical providers and funders.

David Muhammad, Executive Director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, stressed the importance of humility and clear communication to establishing effective partnerships. Social sector organizations must constantly remind themselves of their ultimate objective of improving livelihoods and leave aside their individual agendas, he believes.

Steve Mott SOM ’11, Chief of Staff at HELP USA, a national homeless service and low-income housing non-profit, discussed how his organization must recognize its limitations to drive positive outcomes for its constituents. It’s humbling, Mott articulated, to admit that one can’t do everything, but critical to address a problem like homelessness that is closely linked to education, literacy, nutrition, and healthcare.

Similarly, Victoria Dunning of the Ford Foundation’s BUILD Program addressed power dynamics between funders and recipients, stating that her program aspires to put grantees in the driver’s seat and work collaboratively to build trust.

Funding matters, but is insufficient without other support: Though grantmaking is fundamental to philanthropy, it was evident at YPC that social sector leaders believe funding alone is insufficient to spur sustainable change. Ashley Berendt, Vice President at nonprofit consultancy TDC, stated that funding alone doesn’t improve strategic decision-making, and that social impact organizations need strong managerial functions to thrive. Similarly, Allison Moomey described Robin Hood’s emphasis on organizational capacity building. She believes that if the philanthropic world wants to see good results, it needs strong organizations to achieve them.

Anne Marie Burgoyne of the Emerson Collective is thankful that the philanthropic world has begun to recognize that more than money is required for meaningful and lasting impact. Although Emerson provides grants as part of its toolkit, Burgoyne is glad to be a philanthropist in a place where she knows that grantmaking isn’t always the solution.

Sara Chester and Molly Hemstreet of The Industrial Commons, a social enterprise that supports working-class families in rural North Carolina, described during the Rural Philanthropy session that while philanthropic funds are useful as foundational or catalytic investments, they also need collaborative funders who understand the importance of long-term self-sustainability, especially at a revenue-generating social enterprise like theirs.

About YPC

The Yale Philanthropy Conference is the only convening of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors planned entirely by MBA students. Bringing together thinkers, students, and professionals from leading institutions and foundations across the country, the conference fosters discussions about the role of philanthropy in contemporary society, strengthens professional networks, builds management acumen necessary for vibrant institutions, and cultivates leadership in the social sector and beyond.

The 2019 YPC was organized by student co-chairs Allie Yee ’19 and Sam Linden MBA/MFA ’19 and committee members Lulu Chang ’20, Danny Egol ’20, Anna Collura ’20, Helen Greene ’20, Rachel Lefsky ’20, Juhyun Lee ’20, Meredith Dworkin ’20, Divam Anand ’19, and Jatin Batra ’19.

By Bryan Fike, MBA ‘20