A Reflection on My Time Serving Connecticut

Maggie_Gunther_Osborn_5-2-14_croppedMaggie Gunther Osborn has been the president of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy (CCP) since May 2013. She leaves CCP on June 30 to assume the post of chief strategy officer at CCP’s national organization, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers (FORUM), on August 1. 

Before joining the Forum in Washington, D.C., I want to offer my deep thanks to the extraordinary members, partners and colleagues who have worked alongside me. In them I have found leaders who are investing their social, moral, intellectual, political and financial capital every day on behalf of the people of our state. Connecticut is full of hope and promise because of their dedication and talent, and I have been fortunate to have served as part of this community of learners and leaders. With them, I have indeed learned a great deal. Let me share a few thoughts that have been on my mind as I translate my experience in Connecticut to our national association.


There is a moral imperative that has risen to the forefront in the field of philanthropy to acknowledge and fix the inequity we see around us, because we know doing good is not good enough. Connecticut has the power to face these challenges. Connecticut can build a future of strength in diversity and innovation by looking deep into each of our communities and lifting up the value of each individual. When the disaggregated data reveals the wealth gaps, educational outcomes for children of color, the racial and economic inequity and the great and widening divides between communities, we recognize there are mountains yet to climb.  Philanthropy continues to grow – and will – but it will never be the answer to filling the gap left behind by budget cuts and increasing needs. It is not government or philanthropy or the private sector that will be the answer – it is all three working with communities to co-create solutions to these challenges. Our partnerships are essential and they are beginning to lead the way through initiatives like the Bridgeport Bridge to Success, the Partnership for Strong Communities and CCP’s Early Childhood Funder Collaborative.

The Common Good

Nationally, we know that it is important to have discussions about who we want to be, not just who we have been. It’s important for Connecticut as well. What do we value collectively? How do we recognize and embrace a shared understanding of the common good? The 169 towns of Connecticut offer people a feeling of belonging and connection to their towns, which is heartening – however, it also lends itself to maintaining borders that divide and encouraging neighbors to look within rather than across communities and the state. Modern life demands that we understand that geographic borders are less and less relevant in how we live, work and play within a state or region. Economic realities require us to look at economies of scale within our public systems and develop smarter business and service models. The opportunity to regionalize, given the economic realities, is important –  but what is more important is that it enables us to know our neighbors and seek common solutions to shared challenges. These opportunities for maximizing the assets will benefit everyone in the state. I am inspired by work in this area such as the Long Island Sound Funder Collaborative. We need more efforts like this nationally and regionally that build on common goals and common ground.

Play to Our Strengths

Connecticut has unique and valuable assets, including three that will help secure a more promising future: a current rethinking of the manufacturing economy in our communities, including playing on the advantage of small enterprises, the maker movement and bespoke work; the few, but historically strong, successful business sectors; and continued innovation for the future. CCP has partnered with our members and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to help launch the Working Cities Challenge where small cities will have an opportunity to come together, across sectors, to develop a new plan for their future prosperity. This is an inspiring effort for future collaboration and growth.

Future Growth

Philanthropy, government and the business sector continue to learn to work with communities across the state. They are lifting up the voices of those they seek to serve and co-create opportunities, shared values and solutions. Connecticut will continue to cherish the history of their towns; hopefully, we will look across fences to create regional and statewide solutions that overcome the challenges of inequality. The leadership of philanthropy is essential to this work, bringing strategy, resources and a longer view. Members of CCP are coming together to grow their ability to work alongside communities to support their learning, advocacy and action. These efforts will help build strength and hope across the state and begin to grapple with Connecticut’s deep inequity. In my new national role, I will take what I have learned from our work together in Connecticut on tackling inequality and combine it with learning from across the country — to the benefit of us all.  In this state, with all the beauty, challenges and opportunity it represents, philanthropy will continue to lead toward a brighter future for all of Connecticut’s residents so – as the state motto proclaims — we may each grow where we are planted.
Thank you for your enduring commitment to the power of good. I look forward to continuing to support your work as your partner from my new role in Washington.

Are You Ready? Philanthropy Needs to be Prepared to Respond to Disasters

Maggie_Gunther_Osborn_5-2-14_croppedIn recognition of the first week of the 2016 hurricane season, CCP President Maggie Gunther Osborn, gives her pitch to be prepared:

If our recent history in Connecticut and around the world tell us anything it is that disaster does not discriminate and whether natural or man-made, their frequency is increasing. So how should philanthropy be prepared? Does philanthropy play a unique role in responding? We invite you to take a moment and think about these questions and to access some resources in recognition of the first week of the 2016 hurricane season.

Much was learned in our regional response to Hurricane Sandy and in partnership with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy a playbook for the field was created. There are also other writings in the field that help address the importance of working to be resilient communities and sustainable infrastructure in preparation for when disaster strikes. Here are a few other key thoughts or ideas for you to begin making your disaster philanthropy plan:

  1. Work with your board and staff to develop a Disaster Funding Policy – know when and how you will respond based on agreed upon values and criteria so that emotional decisions are not made that might put your current funding strategies and investments at risk. Are you a locally based foundation that will respond only when local communities are impacted? Do you have a unique role in responding because of your mission?
  2. Have a discussion about the data surrounding disaster response and the fact that the majority of funding comes in within the first days and weeks surrounding a disaster. Should philanthropy wait until the individual charitable response lessens but need remains to begin funding? Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook or Superstorm Sandy, there was much need for mental health counseling and longer term recovery and yet the initial resources had been dispersed or were targeted for other uses. Is this the unique space in disaster relief that philanthropy should occupy?
  3. Think about and determine what role might philanthropy play in preparedness investment that allows for the building of systems, relationships and communities to withstand disasters beyond what government can or should do; ensures resiliency and equity in community so that all people will be equally prepared and equitable served in times of disaster and is of a size that is appropriate to the resources and influence of your foundation and Connecticut’s philanthropic sector.

Please make this the subject of board and staff discussions, developing policy for your organization before you need to respond. Stay safe and keep on doing great work in service to the public good.


The Disaster Philanthropy Playbook is an online compilation of philanthropic strategies, best practices and lessons learned that have saved and galvanized local economies, nonprofits, and vulnerable populations from entering into a permanent downward spiral in the wake of a disaster. The Playbook is a joint project of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers in association with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. The strategies, lessons learned, and impact stories contained throughout the site will be of maximum benefit to the national social sector, funders, individual philanthropists, and nonprofit organizations.

The Disaster Philanthropy Playbook Tip Sheet is a handy list of actions funders can take to help their communities prepare, respond and recover from major disasters. The top item on Preparedness is developing and adopting a Preparedness Plan for your organization including: an internal business continuity plan for if a disaster effects your organization, and an external plan which includes how and when your organization will respond to a disaster and at what level (includes funding, product donations, in-kind support and resources).

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy annually partners with Foundation Center to present the interactive dashboard, Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy, which provides an analysis of disaster-related funding by foundations, governments, corporations, and individuals. The data presented here illuminate funding trends, expose some of the imbalances in where and when contributions are made, and can help donors make more strategic decisions about their investments in the full life cycle of disasters, including preparedness and recovery efforts.

Philanthropy and the New Normal: Building Community by Design


It was the honor of CCP to have Ambassador James Joseph deliver the keynote address at CCP’s Philanthropy Luncheon and Conference on May 13th. The 250 philanthropists and partners present were deeply moved by the Ambassador’s extraordinarily rich and poignant message of justice and community. We are honored to share his words with you and hope you will save them and return to read them again over time. They may serve as a measure of your work in your community and the larger world.

Ambassador James A. Joseph
President Emeritus,  Council on Foundations

(This speech is copyrighted and should not be quoted without attribution)

When I think about philanthropy in a badly divided nation and a badly divided world, I am reminded of what Scott Peck, the psychiatrist and noted writer said some years ago. He wrote that we build community out of crisis and we build community by accident but we know very little about how to build community by design. I would like to offer three observations about building community by design.

The first is the need to reimagine and reaffirm the centrality of community in the American narrative. I first became involved in organized philanthropy as an executive and a trustee a little more than fifty years ago. It was a time when Alexis de Tocqueville was the most quoted, but probably the least read, of our literary legacies. The public discourse about community centered on the civic habits of early Americans and how social cohesion was established and sustained by the coming together in local groups to promote the common good. It was a time when neighbors came together to help build each other’s barns and to take in the crops before the rains came.

In recent years, however, a second concept of community has competed for primacy in the American story. It emphasizes the centrality of the individual and romanticizes the lone ranger who conquered a hostile environment. A primary calling of leaders in the philanthropic sector, as well as policymakers and opinion leaders, is to help get the narrative right; to help bring back into balance the legitimate romance of rugged individualism with the equally legitimate effort to form communities where individuals embrace, reaffirm and take responsibility for supporting and promoting a common good.

I like the concept of community I encountered in Southern Africa in the 1970s. It had its genesis in the Xhosa proverb “People are people through other people.” It was not “I think, therefore, I am” but “I am because you are.” I am human because I belong. I was made for community, so If I deny your dignity I deny my own. If I diminish your humanity I diminish my own.  The early warring tribes in Southern Africa had war healers who came together after a conflict to plan initiatives to ensure that both the victor and the victims were restored into full standing in the community. It was said of Mandela’s ancestors that they had a short memory of hate.

When we are able to say that people are people through other people we are more likely to make the condition of others our own. It has been my experience that when neighbors help neighbors and even when strangers help strangers both those who help and those who are helped are transformed. When that which was their problem becomes our problem, the connection that is made has the potential for new forms of community. In other words, when you help someone who is homeless to find a home, when you help someone who is hungry to find food, when you help someone to find meaning in a painting or sculpture, when you help someone to fight bigotry or to find a job, you will be laying the groundwork for the genesis of community.

But while providing help can lead to a deeper connection, I must also caution that while charity is good, justice is better. One involves ameliorating the consequences of deep social ills. The other involves eliminating the cause and is likely to be more enduring. Let me provide an example of why I make this distinction. When we think of helping those in need, we often think of the Good Samaritan who encounters someone badly beaten on the side of the road and stops to give aid. But I ask you to imagine what the response would be if he travelled the same road every day and on each day he found someone badly beaten at the same location on the side of the road. Wouldn’t he be obliged to go beyond charity to the kind of strategic intervention that asks who has responsibility for policing the road? Charity is good, but justice is better.

My second observation is that foundations will need to help demonstrate that the fear of difference is a fear of the future. They will need to help persuade a concerned public that diversity need not divide, that pluralism rightly understood and rightly practiced is a benefit and not a burden. All of us will need to be reminded that when those who wrote the American constitution committed us to forming a more perfect union they realized that their initial work was neither fixed nor final. They understood that the American society is a community that is always in the making. Yet, it is this remaking of America that is causing great anxiety and even fear.

This conference comes at a time in which the fabric of American life is being torn apart by passions that seem almost out of control. We talk about forming a more perfect union, but the more interdependent we become, the more people are turning inward to smaller communities of meaning and memory. It is increasingly true in many parts of the United States that if you ask someone to step back and imagine what it means to be an American, they will not think of my face or even the face of our president. They will think of someone in whose image they see themselves; someone who fits their comfort zone; someone who looks like them, talks like them and thinks like them, that is, if they think at all.

Our challenge as we look at the passions that have been aroused around us, and often within us, is to help ensure that we do not misunderstand what divides us or misdiagnose the pathology that disturbs us. I am persuaded as I travel around the country that the emotions on display have at least three dimensions: anxiety, alienation and adversity; and that building and sustaining community will require that we recognize the distinctiveness of each of these emotions and develop strategies to respond to the cause of each.

Think first of the anxiety so many people feel. There have been moments of great anxiety before. The period after 9/11 was such a moment. The period after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King was such a moment. But psychologists have called the present moment a period of free-floating anxiety in which the anxiety we feel is not the result of one event, but a confluence of events. The present mood runs the gamut from anxiety about the lingering effects of the economic free fall we faced a few years ago to anxiety about what violent conflicts are doing to our soul as a people; from anxiety about the new meanness in public life to anxiety about whether the increasing tendency to use the public square to promote private interests will lead to an eclipse of the very idea of a public good. Many people have become so anxious that they are anxious about the fact they are anxious.

Occasionally, there are those moments when our spirits are uplifted and the dream of a more perfect union seems within our reach. Those are the moments when we romanticize Nelson Mandela’s call for reconciliation; when we remember Martin Luther King’s admonition to respect the humanity of the adversary; and when we revel in what President Obama called amazing grace, the spirit we saw in South Carolina when a horrendous act of violence hoping to cause a race war had the opposite effect.

But while public acts of forgiveness and grace may be seductive, while they empower the victim of violence and can disarm the perpetrator, they are rather limited unless they lead to a larger social transformation that involves individual, political and economic change. And that is why Desmond Tutu and others in South Africa who are still revered around the world, now speak of the fundamental deficit in their democracy as the failure to achieve economic reconciliation.

So if the first element of the emotion we see and feel is anxiety, the second is alienation. Reconciliation is difficult because too many of us look at diversity and want to homogenize it to fit our comfort zone. Many good people with the best intentions fail to understand the difference between the individual as actor and our institutions as agents. A recent poll found, for example, that white Americans, by a two-to-one margin, believe that where racism is a problem, it is a problem of biased individuals. People of color who were surveyed were more likely to be concerned about biased institutions.

However, it is not just the alienation of population groups from each other that concerns me. I have spent much of the last twenty years in South Africa and one of the things I learned is that enduring reconciliation is not possible without eliminating historical illusions, dismantling deceptions and coming to grips with mis-teachings. The poet William Wadsworth put it best when he wrote that the only thing worse than being untaught is to be mis-taught. I also learned in South Africa what we are now learning in the United States, how public symbols affect public memory and how they can be used to shape a sense of belonging or alternatively foster a feeling of alienation.

Those who write about building or re-building community are the first to remind us that Americans disagree about who we are because we cannot agree about what we have been. We are at odds over the meaning of our own history, over the sources of our national strength, over what it is philosophically and spiritually that make us Americans. We are alienated not just from each other but from our past as well.

There is much made of the meanness tearing at the fabric of both national and international life. The anger we see is often the result of not just anxiety and alienation but adversity as well. Disaster is also a part of the new normal. Many people in many parts of our country and our world live with either the consequence of a prior adversity or walk in the shadows and anticipation of a future adversity. Some live in a constant rage about went wrong in a previous disaster. They are the ones who look for scapegoats rather than solutions.

There are others who live with the fear of a future disaster but they have known adversity before so they respond with a kind of resilience that engages it rather than being consumed by it. I grew up in Louisiana and I served later as chair of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, so I know something about the resilience of Louisiana’s people. I can still hear ringing in my ears a favorite quote of my father who liked to say that the soul would have no rainbows, had the eyes no tears. He was defiant rather than defeated because he looked at adversity and saw not so much the tears as the potential for rainbows.

Disaster challenges philanthropy in a very special way. My experience with Hurricane Katrina was that while private donors provided millions of dollars for relief and governments provided billions for recovery, neither sector provided very much for reform. And yet it is this third stage that can have the most enduring impact. It can help sustain the public attention to what remains to be done and it can help change policies and practices that may have contributed to the disaster in the first place.

My concluding observation then is that the present mood and the present moment in our communities and throughout the nation is a time when we need leaders in philanthropy who are willing to take risk and leaders who are not afraid to stand for something. I have been a leader and I have been a manager. As a manager, I prized order, but as a leader I had to be willing to risk chaos. If those of us engaged in philanthropy are to help reimagine and reaffirm the centrality of community in the American story, if we are to be agents of reconciliation and purveyors of hope, we will need to take risks that may disturb our comfort zone; but I know from my experience that times of crisis are also times of opportunity and that when you provide help you also provide hope.

This is a moment when not just individuals but the entire civic sector will need to lead again. It is a moment when philanthropy will need to act wisely and boldly, without fear or timidity. It is not enough to simply lament the deficit of leadership in our public life. You have it within your power to be the authors of not only a new narrative, but the architects of a new age.

So I conclude these observations about the pursuit of connection and cohesion with a vision of community that has been my constant companion since the day I first pondered how to build community by design. Some of you may have heard it before. It comes from the writings of the mystic, theologian and poet Howard Thurman, who was fond of saying “I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.” There is no better way of thinking about building and sustaining community. I wrote my recently published book because I wanted the reader to imagine what the future community would be like if each of us were able to say “I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.”

I wanted readers to imagine what our world would be like if more Americans were willing to say I want to be an American without making it difficult for an Asian to be an Asian, an African to be an African or a Latin American to be a Latin American. I wanted readers to imagine what our communities would be like if more Christians were able to say I want to be a Christian without making it difficult for a Jew to be a Jew, a Muslim to be a Muslim, a Buddhist to be a Buddhist or a Hindu to be a Hindu.

I hope that if you remember nothing else I said today, you will leave here saying to all in hearing distance “I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be here.”

Thank you and keep the faith.

(Ambassador James A. Joseph is professor emeritus of the Practice of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. The president of the Council on Foundations from 1982-1995, he has served in senior executive or advisory positions for four U. S. presidents, including Undersecretary of the Interior for President Jimmy Carter and Ambassador to South Africa for President William Clinton. His most recent book is “Saved for a Purpose,” published by the Duke University Press)

The Economic Impact of Not Investing in Social Purpose Sector Leadership

Maggie_Gunther_Osborn_5-2-14_croppedMaggie Gunther Osborn
President, Connecticut Council for Philanthropy
Originally written for Connecticut by the Numbers’ March 19, 2016, PROSPECTIVE Commentary

As a leader in transition leaving Connecticut, I wanted to reflect on what is happening with leadership in the social purpose sector in our state and sound a few alarm bells. For those of you unfamiliar with my terminology, I am talking about what we normally refer to as the non-profit sector.  I have chosen to stop saying non-profit, because it has trained us to believe that this is a sector with limited economic impact or does not require the same investments in infrastructure and human capital as other sectors. Non-profit is a tax status but does not describe the work of the social purpose sector.

CT perspectiveIn Connecticut, the social purpose sector employs between 14-17% of the workforce and generates $33.4 billion in revenues annually. Connecticut foundation giving supporting the sector totals more than $1 billion, but is primarily invested in the programs and outcomes of the sector giving very little attention to investment in leadership.  In fact, nationally less than 1% of all foundation grants support leadership capacity and development. The social purpose sector is a vital, critical part of our state and yet is not often regarded as such in discussions of economic benefit, sustainability, leadership, innovation and job creation.quote 1

I sit around the periphery of these discussions and see that much of the energy is focused on the leadership of organizations. We invest in leadership training for our corporate workforces because we understand it is key to the culture, sustainability and productivity of business. I often ask board members who run successful enterprises what they attribute their success to and often they reply “we invest in our people.” And yet very few of them, in their roles as board members, bring that same thought perspective to bear on social purpose decisions.

The result of a lack of investment in the leadership of the social purpose sector is leading to the statistics revealed in Third Sector New England’s Leadership New England Report 2015: Essential Shifts for a Thriving Nonprofit Sector.

  • 60% of CT leaders say they will be leaving their organizations within the next five years and 47% of those in the next two years.
  • 59% of CT leaders are over 55 compared to 53% in the New England region as a whole.
  • More than 54% of organizations have no succession or sustainability plan.
  • 61% of CT leader’s salaries are under $100k with 21% under $50k.
  • 59% of CT organizations have 3 or fewer month’s cash reserves in comparison to 49% of all New England organizations.29% of CT organizations have no cash reserves compared to just 7.2% of all New England organizations. This indicates that a much larger proportion of CT organizations is at risk of immediately running out of funds than the respective proportion in New England as a whole.

At this point, there are a couple of things to note. First, while we have been talking about leadership transitions for many years, the recession delayed the major transition of leaders out of the sector until now.  Second, there is no bench strength to call on from within these organizations when these leaders retire.  Very little investment has been made to build the skills and capacity of middle managers to step up into leadership roles. Third, most of the departing leaders are Baby Boomers whose leadership roles were dependent on their willingness to work long hours in a professionalized volunteer sector.  We will not fill these rolls with Millennials and Gen Xers for what we paid their predecessors.

Current professionals expect to work in places that are dynamic and culturally competent business environments where they feel comfortable and can advance.  They will not stay a professional lifetime anywhere, and will not stay more than a few years where these characteristics do not exist. In addition, the state budget crisis is going to be our norm for the next decade consequently offloading more responsibility to this sector. We need people with the skills to not only provide services, but also create new business models, attract talent and strategically work through these enormous challenges.

All of us, whether professional, volunteer, elected official, philanthropist, board member or donor, should strive to recruit the best and brightest to the social purpose sector by investing in leadership in the same ways we do in the private sectors. Strong leaders will make the next generation of the social purpose sector resilient enough to meet the challenges that face Connecticut.


Maggie Gunther Osborn will be leaving the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy in June to assume the post of chief strategy officer for the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers in Washington, DC.


PERSPECTIVE commentaries by contributing writers appear each Sunday on Connecticut by the Numbers.

2016 International Women’s Day

Maggie_Gunther_Osborn_5-2-14_croppedIn celebration of International Women’s Day, I want to share a personal story about a woman that has given much back to the world as well as talk about how each one of us can do something to change the future for women and girls.

My story starts with the woman in my life who taught me important lessons about my role and responsibility as a women in the 21st century and how to become a woman that gives back to the world.

I am the sixth of eight children born in Baltimore, Maryland, fifth daughter of Mary Ellen and Frank Gunther. My parents had a very traditional marriage except for the fact that it existed between two extraordinary people who worked in partnership as equals, nurturing the best in each other and sharing a commitment to service. My mother had an early career as a tea room model and teacher until she married and started having children. We came one after the other, the first two being Irish twins, less than a year apart. My mother was raising eight children but also remained deeply committed to her volunteer work in the community. She and my father would sit at the ends of our dinner table each night with four children down each side sharing the news from their daily work on community boards, their civic activities or fundraising efforts.
My father ran the family hardware business that enabled him to support the family but also to give back to the community, which was his real work.

The eight of us listened off and on as we vied for the last roll in the basket or tried to hide our vegetables. I remember one night when they were discussing the issue of drugs in downtown Baltimore and efforts to stop pushers from reaching schools. My little brother Gregory, who was in kindergarten, declared “we have a pusher at school!” My parents stopped their conversation and looked at Gregory in dismay who said “yea, every time we are in line he pushes us and it makes me really mad”.

Our lives were meshed into their daily lives of service each night at the dinner table and when we helped with volunteer projects. Most the time we didn’t fully understand the conversation but they were imprinting us with their character and example of giving back to the world.

Mary Ellen GuntherWhen I was a girl my mother would volunteer for the League of Women Voters at the annual flower mart. I didn’t really remember much about the cause but she would bring me home a coffee can of Lilly of the valley. At 83 she is still supporting the League of Women Voters. When there was an election, my mother would march all of us down like a line of ducks to the pumping station in our neighborhood where she would cast her vote. She would take all of us in behind the curtain of the voting booth and we would each get to pull a lever. Something important was being taught, though I was not really aware of it at the time. I cringe now to think of the low voter turn-out in our communities and that not every citizen of this country exercises this responsibility. Women must especially vote and get other to the polls if we are to advance in our representation.

We hosted parties at our house for people running for local office. We went with my mom to the State House on Maryland Day to celebrate the founding of Maryland. She took us to the Maryland Historical Society to see the original manuscript of the Star Spangled Banner and to Fort McHenry. She was my Girl Scout leader. Dad’s job was to help us sell the cookies at his hardware store and throughout the neighborhood; every year we were at the top of the sales chart. Mom and Dad were the first husband and wife team to co-chair a major United Way Campaign and Mom was the first women to chair the campaign herself the following year. She went up in a telephone truck to hang campaign street banners with my baby brother on her hip. She took us to the library and became a champion of the Enoch Pratt Free Library System from which has now emerged Carla Hayden, President Obama’s nominee for Librarian of Congress who is the first woman and first African American to be nominated to the position. My mom was awarded the Silver Beaver for her volunteer service by the Boy Scouts, the first woman to receive this honor.

She raised eight unique children, each with their own personalities and talents which she allowed space and guidance to develop. For each of our 13th birthdays, she took us individually for a day alone with her to New York. She went with me when I bought my menorah as my keepsake from the trip which I continue to light each year alongside my Christmas tree. She never questioned my choice but celebrated the openness of my interest in other cultures and religions. I was taught that I was just a part of a global society and continuum of humanity that started before me and will remain long after. I could go on and on but this is not just a tribute to my mother but rather a tale of how she taught me about my role and responsibility in the world.

My mother taught me that women must teach their children generosity and empathy for others, that civic engagement is a responsibility that must be met with commitment, that we must be open to different experiences, people, places and cultures. We should revere our history and that of others for it lights the way for our future and enriches our present.

As I have matured I have also come to recognize that my experience was just that, my very lucky experience. Everyone’s experience, filters and references are different, but we all share some things. We all have a woman somewhere in our life or experience that has given something to us and the world.

Take a moment and remember a woman in your life that taught you something important about the way you should be in the world. Someone you think of as an extraordinary women who has made a difference in your life or the life of your community. Think of a mother, a teacher, a civic leader, a coach, a mentor, an artist or musician, a friend, a daughter, a spiritual guide, someone who inspires you and may have contributed to who you are today.

Hold that woman in your head and your heart today and honor her on this international woman’s day as we think about what this day is meant to represent.

International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labor movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.

Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

Many of the woman we celebrate and remember are well known like Mother Teresa, Gloria Steinem, Melinda Gates or Malala Yousafzai, but some we need to celebrate are those we are thinking of now in our hearts and heads or those we pass by daily without recognition who live in our neighborhoods and are mentoring the next generation, helping protect women’s rights, working on issues of human trafficking or domestic violence. They are women like my mother Mary Ellen. All of these women, famous or not, share a common desire to lift up society to be a place where all men and women thrive.

Call to Action

The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon’s call to action for today is the following:
Let us devote solid funding, courageous advocacy and unbending political will to achieving gender equality around the world. There is no greater investment in our common future.”

“Worldwide, women continue to contribute to social, economic, cultural and political achievement and we have much to celebrate today. But progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places.

The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.

Globally, with individuals pledging to move from talk to purposeful action – and with men and women joining forces – we can collectively help women advance equal to their numbers and realize the limitless potential they offer economies the world over. We have urgent work to do. “

Remember the woman that you are holding in your head and your heart. Keep her in my mind as I ask you to commit to take action to accelerate gender parity.

Are you ready to accelerate gender parity?
Here is what we need to do:

1) Be a champion of diversity wherever and whenever you can. In your workplace, place of worship, community organizations, schools or social clubs, where you do business. Ask the questions about why women and girls are not better represented.

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was asked how many women would be enough on the Supreme Court she replied “nine. Nine? Well there were nine men for a long, long time and no one said anything”

When I asked my brother-in-law about parity between men and women he said remember the book “Half the Sky”? If women represent half of the world they ought to fill half of the positions everywhere. I like his math!

2) Do not make assumptions of where talent or potential come from. Look to women from all walks of life and backgrounds to lift them up and support them. Think about how your unconscious bias may keep you from giving a girl or woman an opportunity.

3) Be a mentor to women and girls around you every day. Let them talk to you whether formally or informally. Offer them support and help build their self-awareness and confidence. Young women need someone to talk to, be that someone.

4) Be a sponsor, talk about and on behalf of the women and girls around you, give them access to networks and opportunities and sing their praises publicly. This happens for men and other networks and societies all the time but not necessarily for women and girls.

5) Studies conducted by the World Economic Forum and others confirm that even just the presence of women in leadership positions impacts positively on outcomes. Specifically, women in leadership are more likely to act in a bipartisan manner, are more likely to surface new ideas and bring new issues to the table for consideration; so please help more women decide to run for political and public sector leadership. We need more women in public life. And please make sure you and everyone you know votes!

Think about who has made it possible for you to rise to your potential?
How can you make it possible for others?

Adapted from http://www.internationalwomensday.com/

On this International Woman’s Day with your special person in your head and heart make a commitment that you will answer the United Nations call to work towards gender parity and lift one another up so that we all will live in a more just world, reap the benefits of all of our talents and build a better society for women and girls.

Happy International Women’s Day.

Excerpted from Maggie’s speech given at Liberty Bank’s 2016 International Women’s Day Celebration Breakfast Seminar.

Four Lessons for Authentic Nonprofit Collaboration

The Connecticut Council for Philanthropy (CCP) welcomes this CCP member guest post about effective philanthropy and best practices. The post originally appeared in the Perrin Family Foundation Blog.

The Perrin Family Foundation (PFF) was founded in 1994 by Sheila and Charles Perrin. Several years ago, PFF shifted its mission to focus on partnering with organizations in under-resourced communities across the state of Connecticut to build environments that support young people as leaders of social change.


Lauren McCargar, Program Officer. Perin Family Foundation

Recently, PFF Program Officer Laura McCargar joined Michael Moody of the Johnson Center for Family Philanthropy and Katherine Lorenz of the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference in Houston, Texas to talk about collaboration in the context of family philanthropy.

Laura shared four lessons lifted from PFF’s own efforts to operate in authentic partnership with our grantees, cultivate collaboration among our grantee partners and work collaboratively with philanthropic colleagues.

1.Understand how the family’s ethos informs your foundation’s approach to collaboration.  Prior to founding the Perrin Foundation, Sheila Perrin worked as public school teacher and youth counselor. She often notes that the listening skills she learned while earning her degree in counseling has proven to be the most valuable tool in her philanthropic work. When she and her husband Charlie began to explore the possibility of creating a foundation, Sheila initially thought about creating an operating foundation focused on youth arts. When she discovered through intentional learning and relationship building that there was an already existing local organization doing the same, she worked collaboratively to help them build their initiative rather than launching one of her own. When the family foundation was formed a few years later, it was built on values already expressed in the lives and actions of its founders: listen deeply, learn from those living and doing work on the ground, and be open to an evolving vision. This ethos fuels the foundation’s collaborative spirit.

2. Think and act big picture, but be transparent about – and own – your motivations and purpose. Collaboration is not a selfless act, and collaborative efforts can quickly run afoul if those involved act as though it is. Working collaboratively, in authentic partnership, requires that those engaged in the relationship are honest and transparent about their intentions and goals. At the same time, collaboration requires a willingness to see and act in support of a “bigger picture” that may not initially be within your frame. When our mission narrowed to focus specifically on youth-led social change, opportunities for collaboration with our philanthropic colleagues expanded – and also became more necessary. At PFF, this means that we can be counted on to raise questions about youth voice, engagement and leadership at any table we find ourselves. It also requires that we see and understand how young people’s lives are intertwined with those of their parents, caregivers, and community members. Youthled social change efforts benefit from the existence of robust community-led social change efforts, so while our grantmaking focuses on youth, we are thinking about and working collaboratively with others to strengthen and deepen infrastructure for community organizing across the board.

3. If you want to see collaboration among grantees, invest in opportunities for people to build authentic relationships with one another. When PFF shifted its vision and mission to focus on youth led social change, we engaged in a year-long scan where we asked youth and practitioners to help us understand the challenges and barriers facing the field in CT. Among the most frequently cited challenges were the sense of isolation youth organizing groups and philanthropic practices which exacerbate a sense of competition among groups, ultimately hindering collaborative work.

As we translated our field scan learning into a new grant strategy, PFF prioritized creating spaces and opportunities for our grantee partners to simply be together, learn together and build relationships with one another, without expectation that they would engage in a shared project or shared work.  We have a designated minigrant fund for peer exchanges, which underwrites travel, food or meeting expenses when groups want to visit each other.  And if that relationship building leads to an interest in further collaborative work, we have a minigrant fund that supports grantee partners to work together on planning a shared event or project.

Creating conditions that support collaboration also requires that foundations appropriately calibrate their sense of time and expected timetables for “outcomes.” Building authentic relationships take time.  Our Building Leadership and Organizing Capacity (BLOC) initiative brings together youth-adult leadership teams from youth organizing groups around the state to strengthen and improve their organizing capacity.  Through monthly meetings and twice-yearly retreats, BLOC has intentionally been designed to be a space where folks can learn together, build trust, be honest about their challenges and struggles, and develop a sense of shared purpose.  After the first two years of the initiative, groups regularly attend and support each other’s events and organizing actions, exchange tools and curriculum resources, and have shared tips and insights when pursuing other foundation funding.

4. Rigorously examine how your own work as a foundation aligns with the expectations you hold of your grantees. Practicing what you preach, as the saying goes, is easier said than done. Holding your own institution to the same expectations as you hold of your grantees will help ensure that you better understand the nuanced dynamics of and inherent challenges of collaborative work. When combined with an institutional commitment to continuous learning and reflective practice, you can become a more attuned, grounded funder, and will be better poised to build authentic relationships with grantee partners. At PFF, we recognize that social change requires examining and challenging existing dynamics of power, so we try to be particularly mindful of how power plays out in our relationships our grantee partners. We encourage our grantee partners to learn from their peers and work outside of the “silos” of issue area and geography, and we strive to do the same. Recognizing that we could face the same challenge of “isolation” that many of our grantee partners face, we joined the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a national collaborative that aims to increase philanthropic investment in and strengthen the organizational capacities of youth organizing groups across the country. Through FCYO, we learn from both practitioners and foundations working in communities and regions with more established youth organizing infrastructure, broadening our own exposure to the potential and impact of youth-led change. More recently, PFF has begun to convene a local learning network of funders interested in supporting community organizing efforts in Connecticut.

For more tips on collaboration, check out Grantmakers for Effective Organization’s most recent publication, Building Collaboration from the Inside Out.

Forum’s New President on Reducing Duplication and Increasing Collaboration in Philanthropy’s Infrastructure

Dave-Biemesderfer-ForumDavid Biemesderfer
President & CEO
Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers

In January, I took on a new role as president and CEO of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. I am incredibly excited to have an opportunity to lead a vibrant and growing organization.

The Forum is the largest network serving philanthropy in America, consisting of 33 regional philanthropy associations – including the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy (CCP) – with more than 5,500 participating organizations. The Forum Network’s greatest strength is that we bring together the dual assets of deep regional roots and a broad nationwide reach. No other organization in philanthropy brings these assets to the table in the way that we do.

The Forum supports and advances the work of CCP and its regional association colleagues in many ways. We offer staff professional development and peer-to-peer networking opportunities to help people be effective in their regional association work. We strengthen philanthropy’s voice in public policy by building regional associations’ capacity to engage in policy work. We provide an effective vehicle to allow regional associations to share data, information, and resources. And we help regional associations pool their resources and expertise to better serve their members.

The Forum operates as a true network that relies on the contributions of all of its regional association members, and CCP is an active contributor to the network. CCP President Maggie Osborn serves as the Forum’s Co-Chair of Grantmaker Education Committee and is a member of the Forum/Foundation Center Working Group (Get on the Map!) and the Essential Skills & Strategies (ESS) Working Group. CCP staff members contribute to the Forum Network through committee service and in many other ways.  CCP adds expertise and leadership to our national network in several areas, including public policy, communications, community engagement, knowledge management.  Forum members will continue to learn a great deal from CCP’s leadership in these and other areas.

Over the next two years, the Forum will begin implementing a new vision.  We plan to broaden our network to bring together the assets of the Forum with the assets of national philanthropy-serving organizations—specifically national issue-based, identity-based and practice-based affinity groups—to create a “one stop shop” for philanthropies to find and engage others with similar interests, share knowledge and advance policy.  In short, we envision the Forum as the place where philanthropy’s infrastructure comes together.

National affinity groups have deep content knowledge in their specific areas of expertise, whether it is knowledge of a particular funding issue, population group or philanthropic practice, and RAs have deep knowledge and connections in our regions.  Under the Forum’s new vision, we will bring the two together in a much more comprehensive and systematic way than what is occurring today.  We believe this will reduce duplication and increase collaboration in philanthropy’s infrastructure, and will greatly enhance how we all work to support, inform and advance the philanthropy sector.

We will be putting our new vision into action through an inclusive, collaborative, iterative and co-designed process with current and new partners, guided by a design team comprised equally of representatives of regional associations and national affinity groups.  The team is co-chaired by Kathleen Enright, president & CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and Chris Essel, president & CEO of Southern California Grantmakers.

I’m honored to be taking over the helm of the Forum at this pivotal moment for the organization and for the philanthropy field. Working with wonderful members and partners like the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy, I am committed to making significant progress in how we support, connect and advance philanthropy in our country.