Reflections from the Council on Foundations Annual Conference

Megan Murphy, project manager for LearnPhilanthropy at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, is attending and blogging about the Council on Foundations Conference.

The Council on Foundations 2014 Annual Conference: Philanthropy Exchange kicked off on Sunday, June 8 with three plenary sessions designed to promote thinking about our work in the sector and how this work can impact individuals around us. The conference runs through June 10 at the Washington Hilton in Washington D.C. The Johnson Center is here connecting with friends from across the sector and promoting LearnPhilanthropy, our newest venture designed to make grantmaker learning simple and easy to access.

In the opening plenary session, award winning journalist and author Collin Woodard described the premise of his new book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. In it, he draws a picture of the United States as a country divided into eleven distinct boundaries by historical roots, immigration patterns, and social values, rather than the four regions of most common reference. He concluded by showing how these divisions affect voting patterns and how philanthropic giving differs within these boundaries. As a map lover, I appreciated how distinct these divisions are when displayed this way, and how they have changed over time as both politics and the boundaries themselves have changed in this country.

After Woodard, Jim Clifton, CEO of The Gallup Organization, took the stage and discussed data and jobs. What resonated most was his description of the new American dream. We’ve gone from the dream of being able to worship and live freely to the new dream of having a good job, meaning that most people define success in this country by doing meaningful, mission driven work that connects to all aspects of their lives, inside and outside of the office.

However, this dream is not easily achieved. According to Clifton, with fewer full time jobs than ever before, only about 30% of full time workers are in positions in which they feel they do meaningful work, and another 20% are what he describes as “actively disengaged.” Clifton ended with a call to begin investing in future entrepreneurs to promote job growth and small business.

Other notable plenary sessions included Gwen Ifill, journalist, author and managing editor of The PBS Newshour, and a panel of teens from The News Literacy Project describing how they understand news and seek out reliable information in the digital age. A discussion on the state of philanthropy followed.
U.S. Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez gave a passionate talk about the imperative behind the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, followed by a panel of foundation executives discussing this and similar initiatives and philanthropy’s obligations to eradicate poverty and create lasting social change.

The theme of career and work that can connect to every other part of your life has me thinking about how everyone should have the chance to build a career around meaningful work. My colleagues and I have had the opportunity here to connect with so many of our friends in the field to learn more about what drives them to be engaged. Being part of this sector, we have the fortune of doing meaningful work every day. We need to remember and be thankful for this.

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