2014 Fall Conference for Community Foundations: Jim Joseph challenges community philanthropy


Avila Kilmurray


Ambassador Jim Joseph threw out a challenge to community philanthropy to be authors of a new narrative of social justice during his sterling address at the opening plenary of the Council on Foundations’ Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland, USA.

Advocating the adoption of his SMIRF Plan, he explained how a difference could be forged by the reinforcing use of Social, Moral, Intellectual and Reputational as well as Financial capital. The ambition, he said, was to ‘intentionally develop and deploy the full toolkit’.

A gathering of some 1,400 delegates listened to the Ambassador – a previous CEO of the Council itself – welcome the explosive growth of community foundations around the globe which are forging innovative solutions to complex issues. However, taking the conference theme ‘A Transformative idea, A Remarkable Future’, Jim Joseph posed the questions:

  • What does it mean to make a community more of a community in a world that is fragmenting and integrating simultaneously?
  • How can we better reflect communities that are dynamic and constantly changing?
  • Are community foundations sufficiently imaginative to go beyond their traditional grantmaking role?

He threw down the gauntlet of community leadership and argued the need to shed the inherited fear of involvement in public policy.

Charity is good; justice is better

Jim Joseph reiterated the importance of community foundations reflecting and respecting the demographic composition of their communities. He pointed out that as they are custodians of values, there has to be a modelling and assertion of equity and inclusion. These principles are important not only in moral terms but in the context of enlightened self-interest. New philanthropists will only be recruited if they see their culture and traditions reflected in their local community foundation. It is also true that more equal societies have been shown to be more cohesive. These are the issues that require a strong community foundation voice in policy making.

Reflecting on his personal commitment to the spread and strengthening of community philanthropy during his years as CEO of the Council on Foundations, Ambassador Joseph welcomed the fact that there are now more community foundations outside the USA than within its borders. He referred to the support that the Council provided to community foundations in the years following the 75th birthday of the Cleveland Foundation in 1979.

Although the Ambassador did not refer to it, this point may have particular relevance given the mumbles of discontent heard over the crumbs of the breakfast croissants earlier that morning: this is the last conference specifically for community foundations to be organized by the Council. Commitment, some community foundation CEOs muttered, what commitment?

Avila Kilmurray is director, policy & strategy, at the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

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