Being a Guest at the Table: Some Reflections from the EPIP National Conference by Steven Strang

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On April 5th and 6th, I had the pleasure of attending the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) National Conference here in Chicago.  The EPIP Executive Director, Rahsaan Harris, invited me to join as one of the Board Chairs of YNPN Chicago.  I was very excited about participating in this event because of the insights I would gain from future philanthropic leaders and the new information I could share with the YNPN member base to build our programming and partners.

For those of you not familiar with EPIP, they are a similar in purpose to YNPN although their programming is specific for up and coming leadership in the philanthropic sector.  Currently, there is not a chapter in Chicago but there was an announcement that they are going to explore that option this year.  Very exciting!

Here are three main take-a-ways/reflections as “The Mole” for the nonprofit sector:

1)     Philanthropic leaders desire to solve problems just as much as their nonprofit counterparts.  There was definitely quite a bit of passion, discussion, and ideas, shared during the conference.  As one of the leaders of a nonprofit organization, I know we catch ourselves thinking that foundations are always ‘thinking of themselves’ before the cause.  While this has to be true to a small extent, their goal really is to solve social issues where they focus their resources.  This basic concept lead me to think, “If foundation and nonprofit leaders are this passionate about fixing the SAME social issues then why are there still so many unsolved problems? Where is the disconnect in our system?”

2)     High-level conversations at these types of conferences feel the same.  The large group discussion, much like those I have experienced in the past, reminded me that blame seems to always be spread 51/49 to the “opposing side.”  Philanthropic leaders tend to say that nonprofits are not keeping up with the trends and are not innovating.  Nonprofit leaders tend to say that foundations are not funding them enough to keep up and make the impact they need to make.  I think what we really need to discuss in these conversations is the real issue at hand: Leadership.

3)     Changes are coming.  What do I mean by this is this?  Foundations and the philanthropic sector as a whole are historically stereotyped as inflexible and incommunicative.  The attendees at the EPIP Conference seemed to understand that issues are not being solved in this “old-fashioned” hierarchical structure.  Philanthropy needs nonprofits and nonprofits need philanthropy.  Our generation is slowing taking over the leadership roles and I hope that the idea of collective leadership continues to grow as a solution to solve these social issues.

Did you attend the EPIP Conference or have any interactions with the leaders of our philanthropic sector lately? Do you have any thoughts on the relationship between nonprofit and philanthropic leadership? Comment and let us know below!

About the Author: Steve Strang is Co-Chair of the YNPN Chicago Executive Board and a consultant with Spectrum Nonprofit Services focusing on revenue, strategy and
sustainable structure.