Recapping a great Philanthropy Forward conference

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The feeling of excitement permeated the air – an energy that Philanthropy Forward generated among attendees, presenters and staff during three days in October when the state’s philanthropy practitioners – from private foundations to corporate funders to United Way and community foundation staff – convened in Columbus to network, learn and exchange ideas. With the infusion of arts and equity work, attendees proclaimed this was the best Philanthropy Forward conference yet.

Day 1 of the conference kicked off at the Hilton Downtown Columbus with learning tours related to place-based funding and social entrepreneurship, a community foundation basics workshop, racial equity training and more, deep dives that extended learning opportunities at Philanthropy Forward ’18. About the racial equity training one participant said, “This is, without a doubt, the best presented, most dense, and most informative session I have ever attended at a conference.” Coming in 2019, we have plans to bring this training to more communities around the state.

As philanthropy strives to advance equity, many acknowledge the role of arts and culture. “Arts and culture are critical elements of an equity framework: they reflect the assets of communities and enable cohesion in a pluralistic nation. The tools of arts and culture can accelerate equity, build communities of opportunity, and design for broadly shared prosperity.”

PolicyLink’s Creating Change through Arts, Culture and Equitable Development – A Policy and Practice Primer

Philanthropy Forward ’18 infused the arts throughout the conference by having attendees experience the work of local artists, emphasizing the role arts and culture have in an equity framework, starting with touring the Harlem Renaissance exhibit during our Welcome Celebration at the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA).

Central Ohio is currently honoring the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural and artistic explosion born in New York in 1918. Tying it in, CMA just launched an exhibit, I, Too, Sing America, commemorating its 100th anniversary. Attendees at the welcome party had the opportunity to visit this exhibit as well as observe Richard Duarte Brown’s Live Painting and enjoy music from Urban Strings Columbus Youth Orchestra. Elements of arts and culture lifted spirits, grounded discussions and inspired attendees to think differently and expansively.

The second day of the conference opened with the annual meeting, in which Philanthropy Ohio President and CEO Suzanne T. Allen, Ph.D. announced a new organizational mission, vision, values statements and strategies. This past January, the Board of Trustees launched a strategic planning process that enabled us to design a framework that uses our strengths to amplify our abilities to best serve our members. View our new strategic framework and statements.

During the meeting, members elected new board members: Su Lok, director, corporate and community partnerships at ScottsMiracle-Gro Company, and Steven Moore, director of donor services & development at The Columbus Foundation. Then, plenary speakers engaged participants in thinking differently about poverty and what it will take philanthropy to help move people out of poverty.


Attendees had 23 sessions to choose from on Tuesday before the Aly Sterling Philanthropy Cocktail Reception, dine-arounds and city experiences rounded out the evening.

On the final day of Philanthropy Forward ’18 – following chicken and waffles for breakfast – Karen Hough from ImprovEdge and author of Go With It: Embrace the Unexpected to Drive Change got everyone moving with her improvisation session. Karen brought volunteers on stage to practice improv techniques that resulted in laughs for everybody. She shared how to pivot gracefully because, as she said, everyone likes innovation but no one likes to change.

We announced our Emerging Philanthropist Award winner after breakfast, honoring Dan Cohn, whose nominators described him as a thoughtful, compassionate and informed grantmaker who in three short years at the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation has become a community leader in advancing philanthropy, engaging in the broader community and strengthening creative, strategic grantmaking. Dan recently received a promotion from program officer to the vice president of strategy at the foundation – in itself an acknowledgement of his leadership in the field. Here at Philanthropy Ohio, Dan has served on the Health Initiative Steering Committee and recently joined the Public Policy Committee as well.

The conference wrapped up with our final keynote speaker, Kim Starkey Jonker of King Philanthropies and co-author, Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector. Kim shared that with strong and focused mission, strategy, impact evaluation, insight and courage, nonprofits can run an efficient, effective Impact Engine, and importantly, the fuel to scale it is funding, talent and board governance.







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