COF: Smaller But Determined Crowd

From May 2 – May 7, the Tactical Philanthropy Blog Team will be covering the Council on Foundations conference from Atlanta. The individual blog team members represent a range of opinions and have been given no editorial directions. The opinions expressed in these posts do not necessarily represent the opinions of Sean Stannard-Stockton.

By Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Community Investment Consulting

One thing I appreciate most about philanthropy conferences is the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, friends, and clients who live in other parts of the country, and who I don’t get to see often. In preparation for the Council on Foundations conference (taking place this week in Atlanta) I reached out to 52 foundation colleagues and friends in hopes they might be attending and we could get together. Forty-three of them replied telling me they would not be attending this year (83%). Reduced travel budget due to the economy was the only reason cited (although most did not tell me why they weren’t attending).  Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“We have no discretionary funds for conferences that require travel at this time.”

“Sorry, we are on travel moratorium for awhile.”

“I will not be at COF. I hope it is a good conference, and enough folks are able to attend. These conferences are getting harder to budget.”

I find it a bit odd that as a consultant I can afford to send myself (representing the Horizons Foundation, whose board I serve on), but foundations with $1.5 billion in assets cannot afford to send a single staff person. However, I know that all foundations are grappling with how to meet increased demand with drastically fewer resources. On a positive note, I learned that one large national foundation is sending a delegation of 20 staff.

Still, I am looking forward to a smaller crowd. I figure anyone who prioritized this conference in their budget is as determined as I am to learn, share, and return home with renewed hope and new ideas.  I hope this will be an opportunity to truly connect and talk with colleagues, rather than wave across the hallways in a mad rush to the next session.

It’s a critical time for philanthropy to come together and learn how the economy is impacting the work of our foundations and grantees, how we are responding to the recession and the swine flu outbreak, and how we can leverage stimulus dollars for greater impact. I’m excited to attend sessions such as “Helping Nonprofits Through Economic Tough Times”, “Change or Die:  Is Innovation the Right Tool for These Tough Times?”, “Disaster Grantmaking: Preparing for the Future”, “Fiduciary Responsibility in a Post-Madoff Environment”, and “Helping Communities Through Tough Economic Times”, as well as hearing from Melody Barnes, Director of The White House Domestic Policy Council.

Landing in Atlanta now…let the conference begin!

Kris Putnam-Walkerly is President of Putnam Community Investment Consulting and author of the Philanthropy411 blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Philanthropy411