Introducing Rusty Stahl

(This is a guest post from Rusty Stahl, Executive Director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Rusty Stahl

I have been working on the Summit for nearly a year as a member of the Planning Committee, and through my role with Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) as an organizer of the Generational Leadership Program at the Summit.

So, as you can tell, I am not exactly an outsider or objective observer of the Summit. Given that, I appreciate the opportunity to be part of Tactical Philanthropy’s coverage.

After a year of strategizing, planning, conference calling, meetings, meetings-before-the-meetings, and meeting again, it is hard to believe the Summit begins in a few days.

I think the large nature of this conference had the potential to be off-putting to some folks. The very term mega-conference (title of the previous post) and other such phrases have been used broadly. So, the planners have worked diligently to create all kinds of structures and programs to make sure that community foundations, family foundations, international colleagues, US colleagues and others would all feel at home and get real value from the Summit.

Beyond that, I think there is a different analysis of this conference that has not been widely discussed. If you allow me to borrow from author Tom Friedman for a moment, I believe that this Summit may help to show that “The Foundation World is Flat.” And I don’t mean that the hierarchy does not leave much room for emerging leaders to move up – although that is true, too.

What I mean is that the Summit has the potential to lower some of the key boundaries and silos of the field, as follows.

  • The Summit is both a global and local meeting. 39 countries are represented amongst registrants, as are many small-scale locally-focused U.S. foundations.
  • By blending the Council’s three usual conferences – the Annual, Family, and Community Foundation meetings – the Summit is an attempt to break the “sub-sector” silos of the field
  • With a focus on the themes of Leadership, Partnership, and Impact, this conference attempts to span or transcend (for lack of a less grandiose term) the issue and program areas that keep us billowing out of separate smokestacks.

In addition to these three critical flattening factors, I hope that the strong emphasis on generational issues in philanthropic and nonprofit leadership will mean that this meeting begins a new inter-generational era in philanthropy.

A new inter-generational era would see our field must shift the discourse on demographic change from a “crisis” mentality (i.e. the Baby Boomers are retiring and there is no one to replace or replicate them) to one of opportunity (the Boomers still have much to contribute, there is still much to learn from the Greatest Generation while we can, and Generation X and the Millennials are prepared to step up and contribute if the field will support them). Indeed, I believe foundations and donors have a critical role to play in ensuring that the nonprofit sector pipeline is strong enough, so that millions of interested participants from every generation are recruited, retained, and retired from nonprofit careers in a healthy, meaningful, and productive manner.

I hope you will pardon the rambling nature of these thoughts. On the eve of the Summit, I have had less sleep than usual – and am more excited than usual.