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2017 Family Philanthropy Conference Recap & Takeaways

Thursday, May 25, 2017


SCG's 2017 Family Philanthropy Conference: Trusting Values / Navigating Disruption brought together more than 100 family philanthropy leaders to connect, build relationships, and learn from one another. The focus of this year's conference was timely for those feeling keenly aware of increasing stress and chaos in our world, so the day's sessions were a helpful reminder that disruption is nothing new in history, nor is it intrinsically bad! As long as we are guided by our values, disruption can lead to personal and organizational growth, as well as new ideas, collaborations, and opportunities to reevaluate goals. Our keynote speakers Jan Jaffe and Henry Berman also reinforced how family philanthropy faces many challenges that cannot be fixed with technical solutions, so we will always need values to guide our work and strategy.

Keep reading below for some of the lessons learned and action steps you can take to ground your philanthropy in values, better navigate disruption, and thrive as individuals, families, and organizations. You can also check out photos on Facebook and access resources from conference sessions (members only).


L to R: Annie Hernandez, Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation; Hilary Kern, Art Therapist;  
Angel Roberson Daniels, The Angell Foundation; Vera de Vera, Philanthropy Leader



 ● Never confuse the essence of your philanthropy with the expression of your philanthropy. Being consistent with values doesn’t mean keeping everything the same–you can change how you do the work while staying true to guiding principles.

 ● There are external disruptions (e.g. economic, cultural, natural disasters) we can plan for, but not actually control. Many of the factors of family philanthropy are also beyond our control (death, birth of new generations, marriage/divorce). We can, however, control certain forces in our philanthropy by recognizing personal biases and “disrupting” ourselves to fix them.

 ● You can change, grow, and be responsive as a family while still avoiding “knee-jerk philanthropy” (quickly changing direction without considering values). You shouldn’t be afraid to change, but you should understand why you are changing. 


L to R: Bernadette Glenn, WHH Foundation; Aoife Maud O'Connell, Leonetti O'Connell Family Foundation; Jacqueline Chun,

The Carl and Roberta Deutsch Foundation; Nike Irvin, California Community Foundation & SCG Board of Directors


 ● Engaging in organizational change (creating more teamwork, developing a new strategic plan, improving communication, etc.) is both a challenge and opportunity. To make any one piece of your work better, you need a systemic approach that deals with the various structures and processes of your foundation while equally valuing the people that give it life and energy.

 ● Your role (or roles) is not about an official title but rather "what authorizes you to do the work." Some examples of roles are: facilitator, historian, oracle, hand holder, initiator, follower. Ask yourself what roles you need to play in order to be effective and why. On the flip side, be aware of your own skill deficits and weaknesses, and recognize how others can meet important needs.


L to R: Tammy Johnson, California Community Foundation; Casey Rogers; Eli Veitzer, Prototypes


 ● Self care is important for good mental health and should not be considered self indulgence. We cannot give to others what we do not have, so it is vital that we take care of ourselves.

 ● The work suffers if the people tasked with doing it are not grounded in values and support from the organization. Values can bring us to a place of familiarity that we can return to mentally and emotionally in order to rejuvenate commitment and leadership. 




 ● Operate under an "assumption of good will" to help you navigate interpersonal disagreements and tensions while keeping a useful level of creative tension.

 ● Use scenario planning to decide how you would react to particular situations (marriage, divorce, successions) based on your values. Just make sure to go through this process *before* the disruption happens.

 ● Become a more intentional communicator by writing down your thoughts for four minutes at the start of each day before you speak and engage with others.

L to R: Alexis Marion, Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation; David Maurer, Maurer Family Foundation (background); Pamela Cohen and Phi Lu, 

Ernest and Irma Rose Foundation; Jan McCoy Miller, Bowen H. & Janice Arthur McCoy Charitable Foundation (background); Brad Myers, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

 ● Use images, poems, or songs as a “third object” to allow you and your family and staff to look at complex issues in a different framework. E.g., "This painting of a bridge makes me think about how we need to improve our communication with grantees."

 ● Be explicit about which particular role you are stepping into at a given time as you try to lead, reinforce, inform, or connect with others. E.g., "I’m speaking as Board Treasurer right now, not as your sister."

 ● Try meditation, play, or other tools as a way to spark creativity and rejuvenate a sense of joy and satisfaction in the work.



● Take advantage of our members-only online directory to find colleagues at family foundations across Southern California.

 ● SCG family foundations have complimentary access to National Center for Family Philanthropy monthly webinars (including this program featuring SCG member Alexis Marion in June)!

Search our library for family philanthropy resources like research reports from other members, best practices, and more. 

● Participate in partnership programs with Exponent Philanthropy, whose quarterly Local Engagement Group events are designed for foundations with few or no staff. Check the SCG calendar for future meeting dates.

● Family Foundation Information Exchange (FFIX) groups provide SCG members with ongoing support and best practices through intensive discussions with peers. FFIX meets five times per year, and currently there are four FFIX groups.  Please contact Jan Kern if you are interested in learning more.

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