Okay, I’ll admit it. The main reason I attended the session (Praise & Skepticism: “Philanthropy at Its Best” and the Future of the Sector) on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Report was to see some fireworks. I’ve researched the issue, interviewed and even stalked grantmakers (you know who you are) to write about the report for the Council’s March issue of Thought > Action > Impact. So, more than substance, I was curious about style–how were grantmakers going to present, argue, and debate the report? And true enough, I barely had sat down when I heard someone say–referring to one of the members of the panel–”He’s already taken off his jacket! I guess he’s getting ready for a good fight!”
After NCRP’s Executive Director Aaron Dorfman framed the discussion, the panelists–Tim Walter of the Association of Small Foundations, Will Ginsberg of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Sherece West of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and Gayle Williams of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation–wasted no time sharing their views. Walter and Ginsberg disagreed with the report, quite forcefully. Walter called the criteria “useful,” but said the report lacked depth and is “poorly argued.” Ginsberg, the self-proclaimed “skeptic” of the group, argued that the title of the report—“Philanthropy at Its Best”–is exclusive; it implies that there is only one “best” model for philanthropy. In their quiet but equally determined mien, West and Williams endorsed the criteria, stating that many of the recommendations in the report reflect their foundations and communities.
I was struck by how Walter and Ginsberg defended their positions and pushed back on the contents of the report. And then it hit me: they were doing what we as a field are supposed to do–have serious and passionate discussions and debate the issues. We may not all agree, but in the end, these discussions move us and the work that we do forward.
Ginsberg observed that very few community foundations endorsed the report and suggested that another session be held at the Council’s Fall Conference for Community Foundations. Dorfman accepted.
Stay tuned for The Gloves Come Off, Part II, in the fall.
Sarita Venkat is manager of external communications at the Council on Foundations.