2 May 2019

Status quo is not an option

The status quo is not an option.  Philanthropy Support Organisations (foundation member associations, networks, and advisory services) will have to adapt their form and function – even ‘re-invent themselves’ if they are to remain relevant and effective in a changing landscape.  These were headline conclusions coming from the WINGS Driving Philanthropy for the Future conference which brought 70 participants from 5 continents to Kingston, Jamaica, last week.

Justifying the time, cost, and carbon footprint were considerations of many before deciding to make the trip – however these rare and special gatherings provide for an unparalleled global knowledge exchange and collective thinking.  On this occasion over 600 years’ experience was amassed in an effort to chart a better future together.  It took a well-crafted meeting to draw on this wealth of knowledge and to feed an appetite to share and learn, not least from the Caribbean support organisations that are in the process of establishing a regional network.  Even more impressive was the fact that everyone who attended had some role to play – from speaking, moderating, facilitating, reporting and note-taking (on-line to create a real-time record) to performing in a skit which brought to life dilemmas that funders and philanthropy support organisations face.

The extent of the appetite to learn became obvious from the level of attendance at the pre-meeting workshop on the DAFNE WINGS 4Cs framework (a tool to help philanthropy support organisations plan for what they do, to learn from and improve performance, and to articulate the difference that they make).  This set a tone around the importance of planning for, understanding, and showing impact which kept coming back throughout the meeting.

A Mentoring Session allowed participants to pitch issues where they wanted help.  This resulted in the identification of a range of topics around which others gathered offering their experience including growing and retaining membership, fundraising and income diversification, fostering international collaboration, engagement, codes of practice, gender equality, cultivating a culture of giving.  In a free style format this prompted honest and lively discussion – and provided practical solutions.

Perhaps being inspired by the Jamaican ‘national pledge’ found at the entrance of Emancipation Park, across from the conference venue, ‘I promise to stand up for justice, brotherhood and peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly’ or spooked by a line from the Jamaican national anthem ‘Give us vision lest we perish’ the conference did successfully work towards at least defining the characteristics of networks for the future.

Having explored what works and what doesn’t; what new challenges exist (in particular in respect of the operating environment); what the philanthropy field needs; how associations can be resourced; it became evident that the distinction between support organisations and philanthropy field (foundations and donors) is dissolving. It was agreed that the support ecosystem could not be considered in isolation from the philanthropy and social sector ecosystems. Moreover it was suggested that the intersections were critical and that support organisations should deliberately seek to become activists within the ecosystem – identifying prominent issues (e.g. inequality, nationalism, migration, environment, climate change, etc.) where they can add value through multiplication, amplification, broadening reach, increasing effectiveness and scaling impact.

The challenge ahead will not be around support organisation institution building or indeed how support organisations can work together, but rather around how to create a new paradigm where the work of support organisations, operating individually and collaboratively, becomes essential to achieving effective philanthropy – underpinned by critical thinking, informed by learning from practice, and delivered at scale.

James Magowan, Co-ordinating Director of DAFNE