We were fortunate that our mom had made her wishes known to us both in numerous conversations and in her estate plan. While action is still required on many elements of the plan, its “vision” has become our guide. As part of this process, we are constantly learning new things about ourselves and our family. There always seems to be some new wrinkle or challenge that forces us to rethink how to remain on course toward her vision.
It has struck me often during this summer that our journey as a family parallels the work we do with our clients. We help each design a vision and a plan to reach that vision (whether this is for the organization as a whole or for a particular portion of its work). We do this with an understanding that what the foundation learns from each action should help inform its next steps. It is our belief that community foundations must be “learning organizations” in order to meet the challenges created by the constantly changing landscape they operate in. Perpetuity doesn’t mean you do the same things forever, but rather it requires that you shift – sometimes subtly, other times more forcefully, but always with purpose.
Take for example, the case of a community foundation that has a vision to become more of a leader in its community. It must begin to act on this vision and build the capacity and underlying business model to support this leadership role. There are countless examples where this path has been accelerated or shifted because of some community event (9/11, Katrina, and the Oklahoma City Courthouse bombing come to mind). At other times, it’s the receipt of a major gift that pushes the foundation’s work into a new or underserved area, but in each case, the foundation has to take what it has learned (and is learning) to build its leadership footprint.
Every grant, grantee, gift, donor, volunteer and staff member changes the nature of what the community foundation is and what it is becoming. In essence, each event and person helps reshape the foundation’s path. What the foundation learns about itself through its work is key to reaching its vision and becoming the kind of community foundation its community needs it to be.
Steve Alley, Managing Partner
This blog is dedicated to my mother, Dr. Reene Ann (Shue) Alley, April 1, 1935-July 5, 2015. For more on this remarkable woman’s life, Click here.