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Vision in Philanthropy

Boston & Chicago, Illinois: May 12th-22nd, 2009

VIP Group

 

The Vision in Philanthropy program brought fourteen individuals from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for a ten-day study-visit to the United States. Taking place in Boston, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois, the program allowed leaders from non-governmental organizations, philanthropic foundations and grant making organizations to explore how best to expand the scope and reach of private philanthropy on the island of Ireland. While in the U.S., participants examined how American philanthropic organizations and community development agencies have responded to needs in various sectors.  The program underscored the ways in which these foundations have coordinated their activities so as to ensure as comprehensive a response to societal needs as possible. In addition to site visits to Boston and Chicago-area philanthropic organizations, the program also included academic seminars designed to give the visitors the context and theory fundamental to a full understanding of the philanthropy sector in the United States. Visits to exemplary organizations gave participants the opportunity to meet with their U.S. counterparts and to share best-practice strategies whilst exploring emerging trends in foundation management. The visitors expanded their network of professional contacts both on the island of Ireland and in America.

 

The program began in Boston where the group visited The Center for Effective Philanthropy and was hosted by Mr. Phil Buchanan, President; Ms. Alyse d’Amico, Vice-President Programming, Communications, and Development; and Mr. Travis Manzione, Manager. Issues discussed included the use of independent analysis and measurement when reporting back to key stakeholders and the importance of continued engagement with the grantee. Dr. George McCully, President of the Catalogue for Philanthropy, gave the participants an overview of the history and evolution of philanthropy in the United States at an academic seminar entitled “Reconsidering Philanthropy.” Dr. McCully facilitated a discussion on the taxonomy of philanthropy, a concept the group members found very interesting.

 

Mr. Jonathan Bockian, a local attorney and the creator of Endowment Stewardship, a blog for managers of endowments at smaller foundations, made a presentation to the group and discussed issues ranging from the structure of tax-exempt institutional investing to the use of new media (such as blogging) in the philanthropy sector. Another seminar, “Foundation Grantmaking in American Cities,” was led by Professor Heather MacIndoe of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies (University of Massachusetts, Boston) and the Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations (Harvard University). Dr. MacIndoe led the group in a discussion of the value of grant evaluations in assessing efficacy and impact, trends in foundation giving and future considerations for philanthropic development in the U.S.

 

Ms. Anita Walker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, hosted the group for a dynamic discussion of the challenges faced by state-funded grant makers in the current economic climate, a time when agencies like hers are receiving an unprecedented number of grant applications from struggling community arts organizations. At The Philanthropic Initiative, Ms. Ellen Remmer, President and CEO and Mr. James Coutré, Vice President, met with the participants to discuss their organization’s effort to develop a strategic approach to philanthropy through the promotion and facilitation of collaboration between donors.  

 

Later in the week the participants visited the Hyams Foundation where Ms. Elizabeth B. Smith, Executive Director, and Mr. David Moy, Program Officer, brought them through the mechanics of running a grant-making organization devoted to increasing economic and social justice in low-income communities. Participants were particularly impressed by the focused mission of the organization and many of them felt that the lessons of visit were particularly applicable to their own organizations.  The program next saw the group visit The Boston Foundation, one of the oldest and largest community development foundations in the United States.  While there, the delegates had a very engaging session with Ms. Mary Jo Meisner, Vice President for Communications, Community Relations & Public Affairs with whom they discussed fundraising strategies, the importance of collaboration with other charitable foundations and the Boston Foundation’s strategies for “relationship marketing” with its donors. The last meeting of the Massachusetts leg of the program was to Cambridge venture philanthropy firm New Profit Inc.  Ms. Danielle Boudreau, Director of Investor Relations spoke with the participants about her organization’s social entrepreneurship approach to philanthropy, and in particular, about their efforts to apply a venture capitalist business model to fund promising social enterprises.

 

 

The second week of the Vision in Philanthropy program took place in Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, the visitors met with a variety of public and private sector philanthropic organizations. Their first meeting was with Ms. Suzanne Simons, Executive Director of the National Headache Foundation, with whom discussion focused on how the organization’s innovative use of media technologies such as e-newsletters and social networking websites raises awareness of their organization and increases donor giving. Many participants felt the NHF’s media advertising strategies would be highly applicable to their own organizations in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

 

The group’s next visit was to the Washington Square Health Foundation, an organization that awards grants to promote and maintain access to adequate healthcare for all people in the Chicago area regardless of race, sex, creed or financial need.  Mr. Howard Nochumson, the foundation’s Executive Director, stressed the importance of small foundations staying focused on specific issues in order to achieve maximum impact. He also promoted the value of initiatives such as donor forums in providing networking opportunities to funders.  At The Chicago Community Trust, President and CEO Mr. Terry Mazany met with the participants and highlighted his organization’s upcoming fundraising campaign, in addition to discussing the importance of maintaining communication, both within the organization and with funders, and strategies for generating new donors at smaller funding levels.

 

Mr. Royce Yeater, Director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Midwest Office) hosted the group at Chicago’s historic Monadnock building where he gave the visitors an overview of historic preservation trusts in the United States. Participants were interested in the local approach of the Trust and in its strategies for maintaining volunteer and donor engagement. Many participants saw the opportunity for further exchange between the National Trust and historic preservation groups in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and were encouraged to keep in contact with the National Trust staff in order to exchange best-practice strategies and other approaches.  At the Chicago Community Loan Fund, the visitors met with Ms. Jane Ames, Director of Finance & Administration. In her presentation, Ms. Ames discussed her organization’s mission to provide loans for start up social enterprises and to communities and individuals who might otherwise not be able to secure a loan. Many participants noted similarities between the Community Loan Fund and micro-loan organizations in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

 

For the final visit of the program, the participants were taken to the offices of Catholic Charities of Chicago for a meeting with its Development team lead by the Director, Ms. Judy Silekis. Ms. Silekis discussed that organization’s innovative fundraising strategies, including effective advertising and promotion, proactive fundraising, and the maintenance of positive donor relationships through constant engagement. The focus and effectiveness of this organization in turning around its fortunes greatly impressed all of the participants, many of whom identified strategies they could apply to their own organizations at home.