Council on Foundations – New Leader Shares Vision

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July 2012; Source: Council on Foundations

Last week, the new CEO of the Council on Foundations, Vikki Spruill, sent an e-mail to her colleagues that included a look at her vision for organized philanthropy. Although Spruill attended the Council’s annual meeting in Los Angeles earlier this year, that was before her official start date. Now that she is on, her official statements will be important data for nonprofits to mine in order to understand and predict where organized philanthropy is heading.

How will Spruill lead the foundation sector? What new directions will she encourage and support? In this statement, Spruill offers an upbeat perspective on the societal significance of philanthropic innovation, citing the array of foundation accomplishments that the sector typically lauds, such as the polio vaccine, Sesame Street, and the national 911 system, but also emphasizing philanthropy’s work on more contemporary issues, such as leadership on the HIV/AIDS crisis, work with immigrant populations, and foundation engagement with education.

Spruill states that organized philanthropy faces “its most critical moment…right now. At a time when our world faces a storm of converging challenges with dwindling resources, philanthropy’s positive impact remains a mystery to far too many. Swirling through this storm is a lack of understanding about the role philanthropy plays in society as investor, innovator, leader, and partner. Yet we all know philanthropy is more relevant and necessary than ever. That’s why we must seize the imperative to help society better understand philanthropy’s impact and contributions.”

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In this first statement, Spruill was unlikely to take on the questions we posed for her when she was first announced as Steve Gunderson’s successor. As Spruill writes, there is much to laud about the accomplishments of philanthropy in bettering our world. At the same time, she and her colleagues have to remember that the vehicle for the delivery of philanthropy’s collective value is the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits and NGOs are on the front lines of social change here and overseas, and without their existence and efforts, foundation impact would be much diminished.

A few years ago, NPQ’s study of the nonprofit infrastructure noted that most infrastructure organizations see themselves as serving and supporting grantmaking foundations and operating charities—except for the infrastructure organizations created by the foundation sector, which had a much more narrow conception of who or what they existed to bolster and promote. When foundations answer Spruill’s charge to help society understand “philanthropy’s impact and contributions,” they should remember that it is through nonprofits that foundations deliver the goods.—Rick Cohen

  • Dan

    It is very interesting that all of the examples Spruill cites involved a serious government investment to “scale up” and the newer examples are deeply intertwined with the public sector. I would be most interested in COF articulating to Congress the appropriate role of government vs. private philanthropy. A national philanthropic voice that that understands private philanthropy- and particularly foundations- cannot alone solve the many challenges facing our society would be incredibly valuable. There are organizations that try to do this, of course, but none with members who control over $300 billion in assets.

  • Linary Kingdon

    Thank you for this excellent article! I am about to graduate with a masters degree from the Institute for Nonprofit Organizations located at The University of Georgia, having spent the last year learning invaluable information about how to run and/or work in a nonprofit organization. Not only was there much to learn, not having much of a background in nonprofit functioning, but with the ever-changing social landscape, locally, nationally, as well as globally, it forces me to focus on the importance of creativity and innovativeness as I move forward with hopes to be extremely successful in helping solve our nation’s a world’s problems. We ARE smart enough, and in spite of a struggling economy, we DO have resources with which to work, our most valuable, being our own ingenuity, resourcefulness and dedication to improvement. I am very happy to now be a member in and contributor to this sector of society!!

  • Balondemu David

    Am living in Uganda one of the countries on the continent of Africa. How can i become a member of this org?

    And how can i become a beneficially of this org.?

  • Gene Wilson

    Grant-making organizations continue to deny their relationship with their delivery system. On their own, grant-making foundations are just “a pile of dollars.” Without effective nonprofit organizations, nearly all foundations would have no way to achieve their strategic focus. And few foundations can take full credit for what they accomplish without recognizing the essential role of the nonprofits that receive their grants to implement efforts toward mutually-desired outcomes. Philanthropy is an equation that requires grant makers AND nonprofits to succeed. A very long history bears this out.
    Every philanthropic leader should acknowledge this reality in all their public statements about the greatness of philanthropy.

  • rick cohen

    Gene: Well said! I hope that NPQ and others quote your statement verbatim to remind grantmakers of their essential relationship with nonprofits as the means for delivering the value of philanthropy.