Unifying Issues in Philanthropy

Tactical Philanthropy is currently covering the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Teri Behrens of The Foundation Review.

By Teri Behrens

image I come to this GEO conference as a former-foundation person (Kellogg Foundation), now working at Grand Valley State University as founder and editor-in-chief of a peer reviewed journal for philanthropy (The Foundation Review). Since I don’t have a particular job-related agenda of sessions to attend and people I must talk with this year, I can actually make some choices based purely on my own interest and curiosity.

As usual, the choices are difficult when there are so many good ones. Follow one of the pre-defined thematic tracks within the conference (foundation effectiveness, leadership, learning, money, stakeholder engagement)? Treat it as a smorgasbord and sample from each? Create my own track based on topic? Go see speakers that I know are really good? Go see some new ones?

In making these decisions, it occurs to me that unlike some previous years, there are no really big, unifying issues that everyone in philanthropy is facing together. Last year it was the economy; while it has not gone away as an issue, it seems to have lost some sting.

Other years it has been responding to legislative scrutiny or to disasters. Sometimes it has been new research that drives the sector; the upswing in early childhood emphasis came after new research on brain development made clear the importance of those early years.

Are there any overarching issues / concerns / opportunities that are creating a sense of urgency among funders? What’s driving foundation strategy and initiatives these days?