The Right Mix of Leaps and Refinements

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Right Mix of Leaps and Refinements 

A message from PNY President Ronna Brown, published originally in the New York PhilanthroPost Monthly May 2016 edition.

Sometimes important progress happens in what seems like small refinements, sometimes in great leaps. As we approach Philanthropy New York’s 37th Annual Meeting next week, I’ve been thinking about what this gathering represents in our history.

For nearly four decades, Philanthropy New York members have convened at our Annual Meeting to elect new board members, review the past year's accomplishments and network with peers. But about seven years ago, we started to build out the Annual Meeting to become what it is today: a deep dive into a topic that cuts across many programmatic interests and is at a particular moment when heightened philanthropic sector involvement might make a difference.  When we started moving in that direction for the Annual Meeting, it was a big change for us, but now we are in the refinement stage.

Choosing a good topic is always a challenge. We start Identifying a theme nine months out and look for one that is both important and cuts across many of our members issue areas.  We also want a set of terrific speakers. Last year, at a moment when Nepal, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, civil unrest in Syria and LGBTQ discrimination in Russia were dominating the headlines, international grantmaking was our focus. 

This year, for the first time, PNY’s Board designated an ad hoc subcommittee to lead Annual Meeting planning. Starting last summer, co-chairs Steven Foster of Overbrook Foundation and Jay Beckner of Mertz Gilmore Foundation guided our process of choosing a compelling topic. Given the prominence of justice reform in our public dialogue, it’s clear that the Annual Meeting committee made an excellent choice. Justice reform is being discussed more widely and substantially than at any time in recent memory.  From the Black Lives Matter movement to the school-to-prison-pipeline to Wall Street divestment from the “prison-industrial-complex,” many streams of public dialogue are coming together to undergird our discussion on  “Rethinking American Justice.”

The program will focus on the history and present application of justice in America – examining what we consider to be “criminal” and exploring the reforms that could strengthen communities in New York City and across the nation. This half-day gathering of philanthropic leaders working across different programmatic areas will include inspirational stories and practical learning that all grantmakers can apply to their work.

We are excited to see the full-to-overflowing RSVP list for the Annual Meeting. Our opening panel, "What Are the Realities of Bi-Partisan Action on Justice Reform?" will focus on the ways bi-partisan movement on justice reform is happening, why it’s happening and what the roadblocks are that could block reform. New York Times National Legal Correspondent Erik Eckholm will moderate a panel of experts on justice reform issues, including Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow” and civil rights, legal scholar, and senior fellow at Ford Foundation; Hon. Jonathan Lippman, former chief judge of the state of New York and Latham & Watkins LLP counsel and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform; and Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice. 

We’re also continuing the “PHIL Talks” session, which will feature inspirational presentations, in rapid-fire succession, from fascinating individuals who are making extraordinary change on justice reform issues. A new element in the program this year is a short performance by Liza Jessie Peterson, playwright-performer, “The Peculiar Patriot,” MAPP International Productions. Philanthropy New York members love a good panel discussion, but this segment will provide special insights.   

After seven years of producing policy-focused programming for the Annual Meeting, we hope we are really hitting our stride and presenting content that works well for members. In a year when we’ve had some major new leaps like moving into our new Philanthropy Center at 1500 Broadway and launching the first year of our Public Policy Fellowship program, it's great to also concentrate on refining things we’ve been doing that we know work well.

This is an idea that we will certainly be keeping in mind as we get deeper into our strategic planning process this year: the right next plan will be all about a good mix of big leaps and well-crafted refinements.  We promise you much more about that process coming up!

Best Regards,



Find More By