Staff Blog

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This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Finding a Path Together

Posted by: Dan Smith on 11/17/2016

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to speak about my approach as the new President and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation. It was intended, despite the backdrop of the evolving presidential campaign, to be a hopeful speech that highlighted the power of philanthropy in Vermont. I had envisioned following that speech with periodic blog posts highlighting innovative practices, creative explorations, and the remarkable impact of the Foundation’s philanthropic, community, and nonprofit partners.

Instead, I find myself offering my first blog post as President and CEO in the wake of an election that raised more questions than it offered in the way of answers. Members of our diverse community range from being deeply anxious about the future to being relieved to see such a powerful blow dealt to the political status-quo.

Regardless of where we land, the underlying message about the power of philanthropy remains true. As I remarked in the speech, linked here, when the structures on which people ought to be able to rely fall to the side, philanthropy can offer a path forward. It offers a platform for bringing people together. It can beat back the corrosive temptation of cynicism and bring us hope when we need it most.

Our mission at the Community Foundation remains unchanged, and is, in fact, even more vital than ever before. Our focus: the strength of Vermont communities. This focus rang true before the election and it will remain true in the months and years ahead.

After a week, I am still waking up early to consider the outcome of the election and what it means for the Community Foundation. The morning after the election, I sent the following as part of a message to our staff and board.

“With any transition there is a degree of uncertainty. Throughout this uncertainty and as we find our footing, it is valuable to stay rooted in our mission. We exist to strengthen Vermont communities.  Regardless of yesterday's outcome, no matter who might have won, it is clear that the fabric of community across the nation is under strain. Armed with that knowledge, I hope you share my energy for the role we get to play across the state. The work of building community has never been more vital. We've never been under more pressure to think differently about how we approach our work if we want to have a meaningful impact.”

The most powerful word that describes our role as a foundation is “enduring.” We don’t ebb with a daily tide. We shift with the tectonic plates. We have the responsibility of taking the long view. The rifts we saw revealed last Tuesday were present regardless of the outcome of the election. It will be up to us to explore how we can actively engage and support Vermont communities and Vermonters, bringing people together when the process has pushed them apart, deepening our understanding of what fuels a clear sense of disenfranchisement, and exploring what role we can play in narrowing the opportunity gap facing Vermonters.

In that exploration, we need to be creative.  As we think about our work together, we need to be willing to consider new kinds of partnerships that leverage diverse knowledge and all kinds of resources and bring them to bear on the challenges that exist in every corner of the state. We need to help cultivate community vitality from the ground up, building partnership across all sectors, public, private, for-profit, nonprofit, municipal, and philanthropic.

As always, we will remain diligently focused on our mission and guided by an enduring commitment to the prospect of communities made stronger in a shared and vital future.
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