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Presenting at Exponent Philanthropy

By Abby Rolland

Conferences, regardless of the topic, are often exhausting, whirlwind experiences.

But they are so rewarding.

For my first in-person conference in three years, I flew to Minneapolis to attend Exponent Philanthropy’s annual conference. Exponent Philanthropy is a national membership organization of lean, small-staffed funders who seek to amplify their impact while funding big issues. I flew to Minneapolis as a representative of The Presser Foundation, one of harp-weaver’s clients. The Foundation has been a member of Exponent Philanthropy for several years and this year, submitted a conference session proposal to discuss its racial equity efforts thus far.

The proposal was accepted to be presented in a storytelling format. The Foundation was invited to create a 30-minute presentation about its equity efforts to be presented twice for two different groups.

In creating the presentation, I wanted to share the “how” of the Foundation’s efforts. There have been a number of eloquent speakers who have expressed why centering equity matters. What I wanted to discuss is what and how the Foundation went about structuring and implementing its equity efforts. In other words, I wanted to share with other lean funders how a foundation with a small and committed staff with the necessary support of its Board could practically do this work.

In addition, not only did I present the Foundation’s equity efforts at a national conference, but I presented our equity efforts at a national conference. The Foundation didn’t send the Executive Director or any Board meetings, but entrusted a very open and transparent presentation with a Grants & Communications Manager who started her position a little more than a year ago and didn’t work at the Foundation when its equity efforts began! The willingness to invest in a young professional’s development in that way demonstrates another aspect of centering equity.

Overall, presenting was a humbling yet wonderful experience. The presentation laid clear what The Presser Foundation has accomplished thus far, what we’re continuously working on, and what we plan to do moving forward. The participants were engaged, the questions thought-provoking, and the anecdotal feedback positive. The three lessons I shared at the end of the presentation are three that are important to remember.

  1. Centering equity should not be undertaken with a “checked box” approach.

    1. It’s not a “we did this, so we’re done” type of effort. While some tasks can be completed and “marked off,” centering equity is a continuous process that involves asking hard questions, implementing thoughtful approaches, and making sure the right decision-makers are at the table.

  2. It’s important to have a learning mindset.

    1. I learn a great deal from watching webinars, attending conferences, and just listening to others with more knowledge and experience than me. There’s always more that we can do, and there’s always more that we can learn.

  3. Everyone can do something.

    1. If The Presser Foundation, a nearly 100-year-old, traditional foundation can formulate, structure, and begin centering equity, any funder can. Without a doubt, it’s a process. But I hoped to demonstrate that everyone can do something to integrate equity.

Beyond my presentation, I found the Exponent Philanthropy conference to be enriching and fulfilling. Not only do I have ideas to bring back to The Presser Foundation and other harp-weaver clients, but I loved connecting in-person with people passionate about philanthropy and its potential. While Zoom has its benefits, the human connection via the after-session conversations, the meal sharing, and the networking receptions can’t be replicated online.

At its core, philanthropy is about relationship-building. I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to meet people from around the country and world doing amazing things who are committed to being the best partner to their grantee partners and communities.


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