Notes from the Field: Our Takeaways from “The Future of Community”

Last month, over 1,300 attendees gathered in Washington, D.C. for one of the largest convenings of philanthropic professionals in the world, hosted by the Council on Foundations. This year’s theme, “The Future of Community,” featured many thought-provoking conversations, but there were three in particular that really caught our attention:

Mythbuster: It’s possible to measure the “character” of a neighborhood and its effect on residents.

One innovative use of measurement & evaluation was featured in “Older, Smaller, Better- How Older, Historic Buildings are Creating Vibrant Urban Areas to Live, Work, and Play.” In this session, the National Trust for Historic Preservation presented analysis showing that reusing and retrofitting historic buildings in urban neighborhoods can lead to 1) thriving creative economies, 2) an influx of millennial residents, 3) job creation in new small businesses, many owned by women and minorities, and 4) environmental savings over demolition and new construction. Their data proved what experts had long suspected-  that the character of old buildings (and their effects on neighborhoods) can be measured. Read their full evaluation here.

In disaster relief, the most valuable partners are sometimes the most unexpected ones.

In “Philanthropy’s Role in Humanitarian Response,” a speaker from Oxfam America encouraged funders to take risks by partnering with local organizations whose communities they may not fully understand. For example, after the Nepal earthquake, it was Nepalese mountain guides who were key to getting relief to those who needed it. However, our system today is set up for a top-down – not bottom-up – approach, and very little funding is going to local actors after disasters. Speakers encouraged funders to think on a more local scale, and take risks by aligning their capital accordingly.

Impact investing:  From curiosity to practice?

From the full-day pre-conference workshop to a number of smaller sessions, impact investing was a hot topic this year.  “The Future of Philanthropy” in particular presented data from the Council’s Evolution of American Philanthropy Initiative and explored “new” constructs in philanthropy, including PRIs, MRIs and hybrid organizational forms. Panelists agreed that, while many of these tools have been available to funders for decades, recent developments such as changing donor demographics (women and millennials are more likely to make investments with a social purpose) and new guidance from the IRS have rapidly accelerated both interest in and implementation of these investment vehicles. For more on PRIs/MRIs, see the Center’s latest white paper, here.

We congratulate the Council on a fantastic conference, and we look forward to next year’s!