Denise Spencer2012: A Return to Reality

By: Denise Spencer In: 2012 Fall Conference

10 Sep 2012

As one who has been in the field as a community foundation CEO since 1994, I have seen many themes. We were sorted by asset size for many of our conversations in the belief that such distinctions defined our capabilities and philanthropic contributions. (We now understand that was absolutely false.) There was the theme that "the Council isn’t doing enough for community foundations," which resulted in the founding of another organization (no longer in existence). There was the "we must maintain donor-advised funds as ours alone" theme (which obviously failed). There was the "are we donor-centered, or are we community-centered" question, and the resulting focus on donor-advised funds as THE answer (a more balanced, community-directed approach—rather than a product-based approach—has replaced it). There was the "On the Brink" conversation, which warned us of the changes we have been seeing in recent times. And there was a general conversation last year, discussing the assumption that the field did not hear the warnings of "On the Brink," and therefore our infrastructures are broken. (They are not, and we have indeed modified both our revenue streams and the nature of the work we do). 

My friends, I am pleased to say that, at long last, our oldest and most revered themes have resurfaced at this conference: 

  1. When you have seen one community foundation, you have seen one community foundation. We truly reflect the communities we serve—their needs, the interests of their leaders and donors, and their time in history. We provide financial, creative, and human leadership in different ways and in different measure, and we fund ourselves and the work accordingly. And size matters far less than creativity, vision, and passion. We each have different arrows in our quivers, and isn’t it wonderful!
  2. Community foundations have shown over and over that their nimbleness and flexibility are among their greatest strengths. We can move and change faster than most institutions, and we continue to do so, both in relation to our own infrastructure and in relation to community needs. Back in the day, this was a part of the case statement for almost every community foundation. Dust it off, folks; it still works!
  3. Trust rules! People support institutions they trust. And our long-term efforts to raise the level of the conversation, raise the bar on performance through our National Standards movement, and be community partners—unique because we understand the unique needs of those we serve—have given us credibility, leverage, and competitive advantage. 

This is the most exciting conference to date, because in every session we are celebrating the field, its continuing new knowledge and tools, its return to the things we always knew worked, and the fact that dollar for dollar, person to person, we can say, "Nobody does it better," and mean it!

Denise K. Spencer is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

2 Responses to 2012: A Return to Reality

Sherry Stark

September 11th, 2012 at 9:20 am

Wonderful comments, Denise! I agree with your well-stated thoughts. Having recently shifted from a community foundation to a brand new charitable foundation, your words ring truer than ever!

Janet Shing

September 14th, 2012 at 11:15 am

Great summary!

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