Philanthropy just doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. In my seven years in the field, it’s hard to remember more than once or twice when it did. When there was a palpable sense of urgency. Even now, in the midst of financial meltdown, it’s a little hard to find that around the Marriott Marquis. (OK, some of us do have an urgent desire to escape the dental office-style soundtrack pumped throughout the hotel. But that’s not the kind of urgency I’m thinking about.)
I’m sure it’s here, mixed in with the receptions, the plenaries, the earnest discussions, the drinks at the hotel bar. Too many smart and good-hearted people work in this field for it – a sense of urgency – not to be here. Yet it doesn’t feel much different from Council conferences past. Fewer people, sure. Anxieties over crashing endowments, yes. But it also feels a bit strangely like business as usual.
Today’s luncheon speakers – especially the amazing John Lewis – put it out clearly for us: philanthropy, with all its many assets, needs to move. We can’t afford the luxury of slow-motion decision-making. In Congressman Lewis’s words, we need to be more headlights than taillights. Of course that doesn’t mean jettisoning thoughtful plans and strategies; those are essential. But it does mean that perhaps philanthropy needs to be in a bit more of a hurry. Those we’re here to serve really can’t wait.
Roger Doughty is executive director of the Horizons Foundation.