There's a First Time for Everything

This entry will be about a lot of firsts: my first Council on Foundations event, my first international conference, my first blog post. So, please bear with me as I attempt to sift through a plethora of information, networking, excitement, vocabulary, expectations, and takeaways.

Washington D.C. set the scene for my adventure in philanthropy at the Council on Foundations Philanthropy Exchange, so hearing the discourse on policy change, tax reform, and influence on the hill was to be expected. I also attended sessions focused on impact investing, access to education, grantmaking vehicles, family philanthropy succession, economic empowerment, and global impact.

I was expecting the dialogue around these topics to be quite detailed, but found that most of the discussion (both on panels as well as in small groups) employed quite broad and vague language. This language included an intense list of new vocabulary and acronyms for me. The people attending the conference were very kind and patient with me, many even offering to help “translate.” For the first day, my strategy was to sit back and absorb as much information as quickly as possible. By the second day, I could articulate this language and participate further in table discussions and networking opportunities. By the final day, I was ready to come home; my brain was saturated with philanthropy.

While I expected the program interests and funding areas represented at the conference would be diverse, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the 800+ attendees at the conference were comprised of an equally diverse group. People of color, multi-generational, LGBTQ, and women all dispelled an ill-conceived notion that foundations are run by 65-year-old white men. The numerous powerful, well-educated women on panels particularly impressed me. Inspiring!

As a 5th grade teacher with limited exposure to the philanthropic conference world, I struggled in two ways: networking and dress code. Fortunately I was not alone in these endeavors. My cousin and 3CF Executive Director accompanied me on this trip and elegantly demonstrated how to network in a setting like this conference: shaking hands, swapping business cards, repeating our mission statement, etc. As for dress code, close-toed shoes and band-aids will be packed for the next business-casual adventure. Live and learn.

Speaking of learning, I have 5 takeaways I’d like to share about my experience at the Philanthropy Exchange 2014. These lessons learned will help me grow as a new Board Member and, in many cases, as a seasoned educator.

  • Young people are asking for debate class to be a required course in high school as it helps develop skills to discern fact from fiction in news media.
  • When looking at data, particularly gaps in data, both philanthropists and educators should be aware of the men of color population and how this population need to be viewed through an “asset lens.” Working in poverty alleviation, whether domestic or international, can learn from viewing diverse population segments through an “asset lens.”
  • Impact Investing is the intention of using non-grant monies to purposefully generate social, environmental, and financial return.
  • Foundations are tax-free entities to do public good. We need to know what we own and be responsible stewards.
  • As a family foundation, we must have a decisive conversation around the topic of succession. Which matters more to our founder: mission statement or family participation?
Sara Portrait resized 061514

Sara joined the 3rd Creek Foundation board in 2013. She graduated from UC Davis in 2003 with a Bachelor's of Science in Human Development, San Francisco State University in 2005 with a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, and TEFL Worldwide Prague in 2008 with a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate. She currently teaches 5th grade in the San Jose Unified School District in San Jose, CA.