Last month I attended the #WomenLeading Philanthropy Symposium in Chicago, hosted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. That’s a mouthful! But it is an important group to know about if you are working in the philanthropic sector.

As a first time participant I was not sure what to expect of this gathering. I arrived to meet a senior group of over 300 leaders (including a few strong men) from across multiple sectors, each with the passion and dedication to increasing the impact and importance of philanthropy as a means to drive social change.

My takeaway was this question: How can we as female leaders take the common thread of philanthropy to lean on society to make change happen?

Jacki Zehner, Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions, was one champion there, leading the discourse with energy and passion – and a healthy dose of social media to boot. There were many substantive discussions at the symposium, so let me highlight a few.

First, funders – companies, nonprofits and philanthropists – are coming together with the common theme of collaboration to drive change. All leaders in philanthropy should think about high levels of collaboration for projects.

In addition, there was a clear call to funders to ensure that we maintain a commitment in grant portfolios to fund operating expenses. By keeping this funding stream strong, the mission focused organizations can innovate, scale and thrive. Winsome McIntosh highlighted this in her speaking points about her foundation’s strategy. Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green added, “…and let’s stop talking about overhead. A nonprofit’s greatest resource is its human capital.”

Collaboration tied into another topic – that fundraising is not a strong revenue strategy. Multiple speakers, including Dorri McWhorter, the new CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, spoke on this topic.

All of us – funders, companies and nonprofit leaders – need to come together on this strategy. As nonprofit leaders, the advice is to look at your mission and programs you deliver to act on your mission. Are they sustainable on their own? How can you collaborate with the funding partners and corporate entities in your network to innovate?
As funders, we need to work collaboratively and think differently about the grant deployment to work together with the nonprofit staff to create a plan that ultimately leads to a sustainable and scalable mission. There needs to be continued emphasis on social service shifting to social revenue models.

Everyone in the philanthropy space needs to create the conversation around the good we do and how we can lead innovative collaborations to impact the marketplace. I was proud to join this amazing group of #WomenLeading Philanthropy in Chicago.

So if you want to stay up to date on what the leading women in philanthropy are talking about, join the conversation about #womenleading and #philanthropy.


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