Philanthropy 2013: Hopes for the Sector

14 Jan

By James Edwards, executive director, Johnson Center for Philanthropy, @QPhD.

Since I usually fall short on my new year’s resolutions, I am hoping that by adopting some resolutions for the sector, our collective efforts can be counted as a win. This will be a tremendous help in overcoming my guilt about not exercising enough, drinking too much pop, and too many meals at restaurants. In exchange for helping me with my guilt, I humbly offer these three resolutions for the sector.

  1. Let’s not pretend we always know what we are doing. I know, I am jumping right into the fire on this one. In most instances the philanthropic sector is taking on issues that have deep generational and societal roots. It’s silly to think that because we have read a great book or read a great blog post, we are now prepared to solve issues that have emerged over generations. Acknowledging we don’t have all the answers is a great method to begin new partnerships and a way to contribute our energy toward solving larger problems.
  2. Embrace the data and discovery process. In this world of instant access, we have become accustomed to having data and information at our fingertips. As we enter this age of increasingly merged data, it is important to understand the complexity of the process and the reasons for a deliberate cautious approach. The excitement over increasingly complex micro-data that can inform the work of the sector is understandable and supported. However, it is important for the sector to get it right the first time and not engage in data breaches or allow data to be used in malicious ways. For this reason, we must continue to show patience with the process and the development of technologies that are poised to advance our understanding of social, economic, and community conditions.
  3. Seek out the bad actors in the sector. I know this is not what your parents want you to do, but protecting our reputations can make us risk adverse. We all know what happens to businesses that are adverse to risk, and we know that societal progress has always come through a struggle. Understanding how our less risk adverse colleagues view an approach or issue may go a long way in shaping how we effectively move the sector forward. The small investment in a conversation over coffee may yield big returns.

I would keep going, but it is my turn on the treadmill. Best wishes for happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013.

A reporter at MiBiz sat down with James Edwards to talk about philanthropy in West Michigan.

Established in 1992 with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy promotes effective philanthropy, community improvement, and excellence in nonprofit leadership through teaching, research, and service. The Johnson Center is recognized for its applied research and professional development benefiting practitioners and nonprofits through its Community Research Institute, Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations and Philanthropy, The Foundation Review,The Grantmaking School, Johnson Center Philanthropy Archives and Library, and Nonprofit Services.

Grand Valley State University is a four-year public university. It attracts more than 24,500 students with high quality programs and state-of-the-art facilities. Grand Valley is a comprehensive university serving students from all 83 Michigan counties and dozens of other states and foreign countries. Grand Valley offers 81 undergraduate and 29 graduate degree programs from campuses in Allendale, Grand Rapids and Holland, and from regional centers in Muskegon and Traverse City. The university is dedicated to individual student achievement, going beyond the traditional classroom experience, with research opportunities and business partnerships. Grand Valley employs more than 1,900 people and is committed to providing a fair and equitable environment for the continued success of all.

The Johnson Center receives ongoing support from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, Dyer-Ives Foundation, Frey Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

For more information, contact Robert Shalett, communications director for the Johnson Center, at 616-331-7585.

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