You’re Not the Only One… with Mixed Emotions

(This is a guest post from Chris Cardona, of the NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Chris Cardona

With apologies to the Rolling Stones, that’s how I’m feeling after a whirlwind first day at the CoF summit. It’s great to see old friends (although some don’t recognize me at first with my beard) and to feel the energy in the room at the increasingly full NextGen sessions on Sunday afternoon. But that warmth is directly opposed by the literal chill of this conference space. I don’t know anything about the history of the National Harbor project (or to what extent it was opposed by the local community), but the sheer carbon footprint of the thing is just staggering – and frankly out of step with the vision of philanthropy that the Council is trying to articulate, especially given the keynote address last night about humans’ impact on the earth over time and philanthropy’s role in addressing it. (I haven’t read the conference materials closely, but has there been any discussion of purchasing carbon offsets?)

I was similarly conflicted about the opening plenary – from the perspective of my giving circle, outside the philanthropic mainstream, I thought the international speakers were accessible, interesting, and substantive in the brief time they had to speak. The pomp and circumstance of the overall ceremony (which is very much what it felt like) again didn’t jell with the substance of the discussion.

But I was excited by Roger Rosenblatt’s call to philanthropy not to be shy about advertising itself. I think that would be an excellent idea, not just because there are meaningful victories to trumpet, but because advertising more broadly the theories of change and practices behind philanthropic work would subject them to healthy competition in the marketplace of ideas (a phrase of which I’m not all that fond, but I’m having trouble thinking of an alternative right now). After yesterday’s events, I’m left with the feeling that the privilege of private philanthropic autonomy must be tempered with humility about the quality of our ideas and a concomitant willingness to put them up for debate beyond our industry venues. We talk so much about measuring impact, but where’s the feedback loop to see if our ideas about how to make social change are any good in the first place?

It’s invigorating to be back at CoF, and I’m looking forward to today’s sessions and conversations in the hall.

Disclaimer: These opinions are my own.