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Reflections on The Forum Network Annual Conference

Post date: 
August 11th, 2015
Article Type: 
AGM Blog Post

The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers held their Annual Conference July 21st -23rd in Baltimore MD.  As a second time attendee I was looking forward to learn and network with my colleagues from across the country.  This year’s conference was sold out and hosted the largest number of participants at 250+.  One of my favorite lineups, which is also a favorite among my contemporaries, is referred to as ‘RA Job Alikes’. Here is our space where we can get together and share what we are doing that’s working and where we could use some advice and vet ideas.  The environment is collegial and everyone – full of high energy during this pre-conference session – asked critical questions and found answers to their questions and ideas they could ponder.  I now have a list of practical takeaways that I can implement, including: what elements should be included in an Essential Skills training that will meet the needs of MA grantmakers, effective strategies for Trustees, and how to best evaluate the quality and results of programs.

A few of the sessions did fall short of my expectations.  The Leadership Development session was a bit insipid and more of an introductory review.  Many of us, who shared our experiences with one another, described it as not providing us with new information that could bring us to the next level of our leadership skills.  Also the Adult Learning presenter didn’t seem to take into consideration what we, RA program staff do, which is to plan and implement high level programs for people in Philanthropy. I was looking for new, innovative methods that would support the engagement of AGM’s constituency of philanthropic thought leaders.  Our presenter’s experience was with training physicians on how to communicate better with their patients so they would return and follow-up on their care plan.  A very different audience.

On the second day the conference opened on a strong note, beginning with a panel discussion: Philanthropy’s Response to Community Anger & Injustice.  RA CEOs discussed their local responses in MD and MS after the shootings of unarmed black young men and the following community unrest and recovery process in Baltimore and Ferguson.  Panelists remarked that these incidences were results of long-term issues of racism that are structural and imbedded in our society.  Celeste Amato, Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, responded by reaching out to City of Baltimore officials and focused on how to best to engage community leaders.  ABAG also brought together philanthropic leaders and the question was posed - how do we do our own work as individuals and teams working in philanthropy?  Are our outcomes equitable? They concluded that the long-term issues of racism and equity must be addressed if they are to improve society.

Deb Dubin, Gateway Center for Giving described their ongoing work within the St. Louis grantmaking community with their recently created Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) affinity group.  Over the course of the past year they have successfully created a platform for learning, bringing national experts in the field to better understand grantmaking through a racial/equity lens.  My hope is that at the very least philanthropic leaders, public officials and community can work together to find a solution to end revenue-driven jailing and much needed municipal court reform.

Next, the Opening Keynote presenter David Grant, author of The Social Profit Handbook and former CEO of Dodge Foundation, was my favorite speaker.  He was not only an excellent orator, but offered a comprehensive learning opportunity regarding how to conduct proper assessment.  I also appreciated his ideology of ‘Social Profit’ vs. ‘Non-profit’.  Why do we describe something in terms of what it is not?  I took two pages of notes as he spoke.  All I’ll say is get the book!  In closing I look forward to 2016’s Forum Network Annual Conference to explore new topics, ideas, and to think critically about how to improve our work to achieve outcomes and impact.  But most of all I look forward to spend time with kindhearted colleagues and friends.


Ramani serves as the Director of Member Programs and Services for Associated Grant Makers. Ramani is a human rights and social justice activist with an extensive professional background in public health program development, implementation and evaluation.

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