IS 2012 Conf
San Francisco
Day 2 at the 2012 Independent Sector Annual Conference: Game Changers. Here's a recap of my day:

GameChangers Plenary
Moderator: Emmett Carson, Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Speakers: Gary Knell, National Public Radio; Bill Shore, Share Our Strength; Patty Stonesifer, founding CEO of the Gates Foundation

Great start to day two with wonderful speakers and an awesome moderator (who I had the great pleasure to talk with later in the day). There's a great recap of the Plenary on Independent Sector's blog. Here are some additional notable (paraphrased) statements from the plenary:

  • Stonesifer: Good governance is a precursor to game-changing activities.
  • Shore: Organizations must consider sacrificing service provision in the short term to build capacity to serve more later. This is a very difficult but necessary leadership decision.
  • Knell: You must have people within your organization who are tasked with thinking about how to reinvent the organization from within.

When asked whether there's a double standard for risk-taking applicable to nonprofits, Knell responded that it comes with the territory. But Emmet followed up by asking why foundations don't take more risk and support game-changing more than incrementalism. Stonesifer, citing the Case Foundation's To Be Fearless report, responded that foundations must experiment early and often and allow failure to be their teacher. Knell added that foundations admitting their failures would give space for charities to talk about failure too.

New Images and Practices of Leadership
Moderator: Kelvin Taketa, Hawaii Community Foundation
Thought Leaders: Bill Coy, Hawaii Leadership Forum; Linda Akutagawa, Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics; Marc Freedman, Civic Ventures; John Rice, Management Leadership for Tomorrow; Rahsaan Harris, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy

Lots of great discussion here on leadership development. Bill identified two critical leadership requirements – sense making and convening – and three leadership responsibilities – coaching, creating learning communities, and taking learning excursions. Rahsaan added that organizations must provide spaces for strategic play where leaders can experiment, learn, and fail without negative repercussions. With respect to millennials, it was commented that there is a misconception that they all want to lead organizations right away. What they want is an environment in which to learn, and not at the kids' table. But there remain some intergenerational challenges regarding in-office work hours and multitasking replacing mastery. Akutagawa identified cultural components to leadership of which we should also be aware, notably that groups may have the same values but express them in very different ways.

From Small Change to Sea Change: Reflections on the Power of the Sector
Speaker: Diana Aviv, Independent Sector
Moderator: Steve McCormick, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Aviv opened with a discussion of globalization, leapfrogging industries, and Arab Spring, explaining that "our sector is, in many ways, a microcosm of the larger world, awash in these and its own sweeping developments." She then focused her presentation on managing data (experimenting and educating before integrating), investing in people across generations, and forging new partnerships across sector lines. I particularly loved her statement that people's skills are the only truly renewable source. The transcript to Aviv's keynote is available here. McCormick then had a group of thought leaders react to the keynote, giving them 30 seconds each, before allowing 5 minute table discussions on follow-up questions. Great format.

What Aren’t We Talking About
Moderator: Kyle Caldwell, Michigan Nonprofit Association
Thought Leaders: Ivye Allen, Foundation for the Mid South; Daniel Borochoff, CharityWatch; Kriss Deiglmeier, Center for Social Innovation, Stanford University; Judy Patrick, Women's Foundation of California; Paul Schmitz, Public Allies, Inc.; Lisa Sharon Harper, Sojourners

I'm so glad I attended this session and often found myself nodding my head in agreement with Jeanne Bell, CEO of CompassPoint, as we listened to the discussion. Here's the list of things we aren't talking about:

  • Who now owns the theory of change?
  • The nonprofit industrial complex; the sector believing it knows better than the communities it serves.
  • Organizations catering to what their donors want and not what their communities need.
  • The sector's failure to call out its bad actors.
  • The faith community and its central role in a much needed new war on poverty.
  • Blind faith in scaling.
  • Professionalization that results in greater accountability to donors but less accountability to communities, and language that commoditizes persons we help as customers. 
  • Organizations' failures to address public budgets, laws, and regulations.
  • Sector woefully not developing its employees.
  • Awareness is one thing; behavior change is much harder.

The 411 on Mergers and Acquisitions
Moderator: Michael Piraino, National CASA
Thought Leaders: China Brotsky, Tides; John Gomperts, America's Promise Alliance; Katie Smith Milway, The Bridgespan Group, Maya Ensita Smith, Mobilize.org

Smith discussed her organization's successful mergers and acquisitions of several organizations. Because in part of pro bono legal assistance, the main cost had been her time and the associated opportunity costs. Gomperts discussed his more difficult experience involving the "merger" of the Hands On Network and the Points of Light Foundation (my good friend from grad school was also very involved in this transaction). He noted 1 + 1 may only equal 2, but the alternative of 1 vs. 1 may be less than 2, making a merger the right thing to do. Milway noted Bridgespan's study on nonprofit mergers and acquisitions and its belief that nonprofits must have a better understanding of how mergers and acquisitions can and have worked as a strategic tool for nonprofits. My question to the panel related to the due diligence costs and where the money would come from to consider these options (implicitly suggesting that foundations should support educating leaders before encouraging implementation of a merger or acquisition).

John W. Gardner Leadership Dinner

I was unable to attend the celebratory dinner honoring awardees Jeff Skoll and Jeff Edmondson, but heard that Skoll's closing remarks were "we can do much, much better." Yes, we can.