A focus on leadership. A focus on diversity. A focus on creativity.

October 5, 2015 at 8:50 am Leave a comment

headshot of JessicaThese were some of the themes and takeaways from Philanthropy Forward ’15 held September 16 – 18 in Cincinnati. The annual gathering of philanthropy – Philanthropy Ohio’s largest event comprising of 240 individuals from all over the state – was a dynamic and energetic experience that filled the downtown Westin Cincinnati.

While buzzwords like collective impact, civic innovation, social impact investing and design thinking littered conversations, deep questions and topics filled sessions and dinner discussions.

How can we achieve racial equity in our grantmaking, how can we align our grantmaking with our values, how can our organization be a better leader, how do we change systems, and how do we advance diversity, equity and inclusion?

Paul Schmitz, CEO for Leading Inside Out and author of Everyone Leads ignited the conversation, speaking about how everyone can lead, not just certain people or organizations. (Special thanks to The Greater Cincinnati Foundation)

“Leadership is an action everyone can take… not a position a few can hold,” said Paul. “Change happens through collective action. It is not a solo act.”

Along the lines of leadership, several sessions focused on diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamental to human existence,” said Kelly Brown, director of D5 Coalition. Kelly led the lunch plenary describing how D5 grew a network of champions advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). First, they sought resources, engaged people in the conversation around DEI and invited others to the table. See the full report.

Several conference sessions dove into topics ranging from criminal justice reform to racial justice grantmaking – not only significant but timely subjects.

In addition, we honored three philanthropists with awards, including a new award this year: the Michael G. Shinn Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Philanthropy, named for Shinn, who died earlier this year. He chaired the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, taking on primary responsibility for guiding Philanthropy Ohio’s work in that arena.


Ohio Philanthropy Award winner: Gordon B. Wean; Emerging Philanthropist Award winner: Connor Reed Thomas; Michael G. Shinn Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Philanthropy winner: Kristi Andrasik

In other sessions, organizations like People’s Liberty and Design Impact encouraged attendees to think outside the box when it comes to philanthropy.

People’s Liberty is a philanthropic lab powered by the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and the Johnson Foundation. It invests directly in individuals by providing funding, mentorship, work space and storytelling support to grantees working on projects that address civic challenges and/or seize unique opportunities. We took a tour of their space in Over-the-Rhine and learned how and why they’re doing philanthropy different.

Design Impact led the Innovation / Flip Lab at the conference, a unique space where attendees considered – and then reconsidered – orthodoxies that community leaders have adopted as core operational assumptions, encouraging participants to look at the other side of the ideas, leaping outside of the box and into a whole new world. The Flip Lab was inspired by the Freakonomics Radio Podcast.

Design Impact is a nonprofit social innovation firm made up of designers, community development practitioners, social entrepreneurs and educators collaborating with passionate people, bringing design and innovation practice to the table and working together to design a better world.

Above all, Philanthropy Forward ’15 was about applying new perspectives, including unheard voices and implementing bold ideas. Communities are shifting. Needs are shifting. We need to shift philanthropy and how we do business because philanthropy is much more than grantmaking. The impact is more than a dollar amount and we have the opportunity to make a real difference in our communities now and for decades to come.

Help us keep the momentum going. If there was a topic you’d like us to expand on or something you’d like to know more about, send us an email and let us know. If you missed the conference, check out our Storify story of Philanthropy Forward ’15 with tweets, photos and more from the conference.

eric & shiloh pose with oktoberfest mugs

Philanthropy Forward ’15 co-chairs Eric Avner and Shiloh Turner

The conference would not have been possible without our co-chairs Eric Avner, VP for The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./US Bank Foundation, and Shiloh Turner, VP for The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the planning committee and our generous sponsors.

Special thanks to Heidi Jark,  Host Event Chair, and Fifth Third Bank Foundation for an awesome Oktoberfest Welcome Party and closing celebration featuring Cincinnati Ballet.

Heidi speaks to oktoberfest crowd

Heidi Jark addresses the crowd at the Oktoberfest Welcome Party

cincinnati ballet dances in ballroom

The Cincinnati Ballet performed to Walk the Moon’s “Shut up and Dance”

If you attended Philanthropy Forward ’15, I hope you enjoyed the conference as much as I did. And if you haven’t given your feedback, please do. We want to make Philanthropy Forward ’17 even better and more disruptive. Until then, we’ll see you in Columbus September 20-21 for the 2016 Learning Institute.

Happy innovating,

jessica signature

Jessica Howard


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