But What Do We Stand For?

But what do we stand for?

It’s a provocative question and one that all thoughtful, purposeful organizations wrestle with at one time or another. For NCFP, the opportunity to wrestle came shortly after our 1997 founding. The Center began with an unwavering commitment to inspiring and supporting the charitable work of donor families. That mission was unheard of at that time and, although we were established in a way the founders believed would help us best pursue that mission, onlookers tried to fit our square peg into the round holes they knew and understood. We spent a lot of time telling folks what we were not: we weren’t consultants; we weren’t an academic center; nope, not a membership association; and, well, you get the idea.

At our first retreat, twenty years ago this spring, the remarkable founding board gathered at Pocantico Conference Center and tackled this frustration.  After some minutes, founding board member, Ira Hirschfield, of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, shifted the conversation.

“We know what we are not,” he acknowledged, “but what do we stand for?”

The time had come to spend more time on what we believed and what we would offer the field of family philanthropy.

The most powerful conversation I’ve ever been a part of ensued. The result? The Statement of Values and Guiding Principles the board adopted soon after. The statement described each value, how our work would reflect our values, and invited all interested readers to engage with us in the conversation. Critically, we encouraged anyone who found us not keeping faith with our values to call us on it. We wanted an honest conversation.

Two board processes have reviewed this statement since and both found that the statement has passed the test of time. While there are, as expected, new themes and concerns to be faced, the statement includes a place for them all. The interpretation of the values can be adapted to new social challenges. (Much like the way values clarification evolves with families.)

As we prepare for the final months of our anniversary work plan, the time has come again to invite the field and the public to engage with us in a conversation about the values that undergird not only the National Center for Family Philanthropy but the field of family giving. Questions of social purpose, inclusiveness, impact, accountability and perpetuity – and many more – swirl around us much like the questions surrounded our founding board.

  • What is the role of private family philanthropy in a democracy?
  • How can we ensure our missions, grantees, and public purposes are well served?
  • How can we continue to inspire families to engage in the extraordinary work in which both the communities served and the families themselves are enhanced?

Over the next months, you will be treated to a discussion of each value and we invite your voice in the conversation of keeping them relevant and lively. Find the one that intrigues you or incites a passion of your own. Let us know what you think. Share an experience. And, as always, your candor about the issue and what the field – and the Center – can do is most heartily welcome.

As we begin to welcome the opportunities and embrace the challenges 2018 brings, I wish you the fulfillment, joy and peace that come with work well done. And, as always, may that work be accomplished with grace, gratitude and generosity.