The Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) 2024 National Conference kicked off in Los Angeles on May 20. If day one is any indication, this will be one of my favorite conferences. Included in this post are some of the highlights.

GEO and its Strategic Direction

“GEO is a community of funders committed to transforming philanthropic culture and practice by connecting members to the resources and relationships needed to support thriving nonprofits and communities. “

“We are mobilizing the GEO community— our members, partners, board, staff and other stakeholders—around an explicit and holistic direction that aligns us with our purpose, our commitment to racial equity and our role within the broader philanthropic ecosystem.” See more here.

Highlights from the Conference

Opening Plenary: Visions and Voices for Change

Kavon Ward gave an impassioned reading of her poem on reparations (see an earlier reading of Kavon’s poem Reparations 2020 here).

Bob Ross spoke about the breach in the meaning and use of the term “for all” in the Declaration of Independence, and about the manifestations of that breach – structural and systemic problems. He emphasized the importance of being proximate to the pain held by many adversely impacted by that breach and why trust-based philanthropy matters. It says, “I see you.” He offered the metaphor of the mythical Sankofa bird that flies forward while looking backwards. Ross closed by reminding us of those who sacrificed so much while daring to dream wildly of a time where their descendants – us – could be in the positions we’re in, “sitting our asses” in a luxury hotel ballroom with an opportunity to participate in conferences like this.

Grisanti Avendaño described the 5 principles of healing justice developed by Youth Organize California. She also led the audience in a powerful exercise of whispering our wishes of healing justice into our loosely closed hands and then releasing it into the world. She closed her thoughts with a quote from Malcolm X:

We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.

Plenary Luncheon: Finding Joy in Transformation: A Conversation with ALOK

Wow! First off, if you have an opportunity to see ALOK (they/them) speak about social issues, don’t miss it. Here are some points they left attendees thinking about (paraphrased):

  • We can do something with funny that we can’t do with sadness.
  • People don’t win by cowering or arguing; they win by living freely and by being silly, ridiculous, and flamboyant.
  • Philanthropy and society can’t just throw dollars at symptoms and not at causes.
  • Money is not the only capital; love is the fundamental capital.
  • Grantors give to liberate themselves; philanthropy is an exchange.
  • If the gift is not from the soul, it’s not a gift, it’s a curse.
  • It’s impossible for me to be authentic unless I create conditions for you to be authentic too.
  • I can be in love with being alive by acknowledging that my life is finite.
  • It’s okay to live with fear, which allows us to be relatable and connected, but we don’t want to be steered by fear (let love be the driver).
  • You can’t be risk-averse and transformational.

Impact Investments and Racial Equity: Lessons from California

The Center for Community Investment’s Capital Absorption Framework has three functions: (1) articulating shared priorities, (2) creating and executing an investable pipeline of  projects, and (3) improving the enabling environment. The speakers presented examples from the perspectives of a nonprofit, community development financial institution (CDFI) and a funder. They discussed past and current challenges, including regarding real estate development for low-income housing; some key considerations for funders in making program-related investments; and the importance of building trust.

Helping BIPOC Nonprofit Leaders Avoid the Glass Cliff

The presenters from BoardSource, Tara Huffman and Stella Ford, shared the organization’s listening and co-creation philosophy in asking the audience about the glass cliff. And the audience contributed brilliantly. They grappled with the various causes of the glass cliff and how they impact BIPOC leaders, what types of support BIPOC leaders in glass cliff scenarios need and why, and the importance of understanding structural changes that are required for equity. Many management norms have been created from the perspective of a white man who has built-in support from such status, allowing him to work much longer hours without breaks or time off than should reasonably be expected of a person with other responsibilities. Creating ways for BIPOC leaders to meet such norms is not a real solution. Addressing systemic racism also requires support for the organization that is much more than support for the BIPOC leader.