A chance to show national funders the other side of our coin

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Soon our region will have an opportunity to present our needs and our successes before a national philanthropic audience. In June 2014, the Council of Foundations (COF) will host its annual conference in downtown D.C. Representatives of foundations from across the country will be here. If the sessions go as they have in the past, we will have a chance to show our region to the attendees. The question is, how can we use this opportunity most effectively?

Years ago, we wanted to make sure that national funders saw our region as competent. The District’s credit rating had been reduced to junk status in the mid- to late-1990s and the U.S. Congress, fearing that the financial decline would worsen, had taken over complete control of day-to-day financial operations through the Financial Control Board. The suburbs weren’t even seen as having any real needs. Within this context, not only were businesses not investing in the region, national foundations weren’t either; so in 1998 when COF came to town, WRAG members coordinated sessions to make national funders see us as a sound investment.

A decade later when the Council of Foundations Annual Meeting was held at the Gaylord Hotel in Prince George’s County, not only was the District viewed in a different light, but the suburbanization of poverty was beginning to get some attention. National funders, like the Wallace Foundation, Eli Broad and Gates were seeing both the need and the potential in the region and they were making solid investments in leaders working for change. That felt like success.

Today, I believe that we must elevate needs. The press coverage of our high achieving, well-housed, knowledge-class residents has effectively obscured the needs of this region. Local funders have done a remarkable job, but larger investments, from better endowed foundations, are needed to help transform our educational systems, ensure access to health care, enable affordable housing, and promote workforce opportunities.

When COF comes to town next June, we must showcase the greater Washington region as one that has a solid complement of capable leaders in the nonprofit sector and as one that is still fighting for social change and equity.