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25 nonprofit leaders open up to conference participants about what it takes to be effective

Publication date: 
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Source(s): 
J McCrayChief Operating Officer, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

Conference participants regularly tell us at GEO how much they value hearing from nonprofit leaders during our events. — and many say we should feature these leaders even more. Why? While we are all in this work to support the efforts of nonprofit organizations, I think it’s because we rarely have an opportunity for frank conversations with leaders about how to support their effectiveness.

At the GEO national conference, participants will have a chance to hear from more than 25 nonprofit leaders about how funders can help them achieve better results.

At Tuesday morning’s short talks, three nonprofit executives will challenge our conventional wisdom about how to fund successful nonprofits.

  • Jill Vialet is CEO and founder of Playworks. Jill and her team are transforming recess with safe and healthy play so “teachers can teach and kids can learn.” During the last school year (2012-13), Playworks, through direct and training services, reached more than 750 schools and youth-serving organizations. Jill will test the assumption that we need brand new solutions for education reform by demonstrating how we can build on what we already know to create schools that work for kids.
  • Dan Cardinali is President ofCommunities in Schools, which prevents dropping out by placing coordinators in schools to support kids. In a rapidly shifting world, Dan sees an opportunity for funders to lead the way by working in true partnership with grantees, including providing support that helps nonprofits adapt and thrive.
  • Gregory Rodriguez is Executive Director of Zócalo Public Square, which creates virtual and in-person spaces where people can take on thorny issues in an accessible, nonpartisan way. Gregory will question the near-fixation on financial sustainability that has become so pervasive in discussions about nonprofit impact, and the ways in which that may be doing nonprofits more harm than good.

One of the conference tracks focuses on collaborative problem-solving. On Tuesday afternoon, conference goers will have a unique opportunity to see collaboration in action during one of three nonprofit site visits in downtown Los Angeles.

  • Downtown Women’s Center, which is supported by several co-funding initiatives, is a nationally recognized model for ending the cycle of homelessness among women.
  • Magnolia Community Initiative, housed at the Magnolia Family Center, is a network of 75 Los Angeles agencies and local residents working together to create large scale community change. 
  • Home for Good Funders Collaborative, a private-public partnership, is engaging a diverse group of community stakeholders in designing efforts to end chronic and veteran homelessness.

At our closing plenary, two nonprofit leaders who are challenging traditional forms of philanthropy will join us for an exploration of new philanthropic models. Premal Shah from Kiva, an online micro-lending platform, and Maz Kessler from Catapult, which galvanizes crowdfunding for women and girls, will share their perspectives on these shifts in giving, what they mean for donor engagement and how we deploy resources toward social change.

A number of nonprofit leaders will also join us at breakout sessions throughout the conference on topics ranging from what funders should do next about the overhead myth to how funders can best support leaders of social movements to the appropriate role for funders in supporting mergers and other partnerships.

The GEO national conference is an uncommon opportunity for funders and nonprofits to reflect on how to improve their relationships. The honest, valuable conversations that take place are one of the main reasons I look forward to our national conferences. I’ve personally found them to be key moments for gaining helpful — and many times inspiring — perspectives from nonprofit leaders.

Bio: J McCray is chief operating officer at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.

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