Change: Thoughts from the Southeastern Council of Foundation's Annual Meeting in Asheville, NC

There is value in gathering annually with colleagues, stepping away from our daily routines and seeing our roles in a freshly-filtered light. We gather some new knowledge, and we identify ways to change ourselves and our charitable foundations for the better. We gain context for previously disconnected ideas, we find confirmation in the experiences of our colleagues, and we leave with the conviction to take concrete action in the coming year.

This year’s experience was particularly timely because of the economic crisis and the change in political leadership of the U.S. The economic consensus among conference attendees was predictably negative. In my last blog posting, I shared The Community Foundation’s response to this crisis. Today I want to focus on a particular insight about a shift in our country’s leadership power.

Juan Williams, journalist and author, spoke brilliantly about the transfer of political power in the U.S. from an older generation that wishes to keep things the way they are to a younger generation - particularly young women - who seek change. He posited that 25% of Americans are under the age of 18, that the population growth among minorities and immigrants is enormous and that women are increasingly occupying the positions of power in business and government. He credited Barack Obama’s success largely to legions of young female activists who gave generously and who canvassed and voted for him.

Williams’ comment about the increasing power of young women hit home to me. In the 1980’s, I was an adjunct professor of economics and investments at the University of Richmond. It struck me that all of the elected student representatives of the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business were women. I also couldn’t help but notice that many women would remain after class to query my guest speakers, while all of the men were out the door before the bell finished reverberating. I covered the names on papers I graded to be sure I wasn’t discriminating because the women were getting better grades.

I remember remarking to my dad, who had formerly been President & CEO of Thalhimer’s Department Stores and was about 70 at that time, my impression that women are going to take the leadership in corporate America. He replied, “Not any company that I know of!” You can picture his expression as he stared me down with this dictum. To his credit, Dad was right about most things, but not this one. The world was changing even then, and now we see it in a clearer light.

So, what will I do with Mr. Williams’ confirmation of my prior suspicions that the scales of power are tipping toward young women? As a 56-year-old male, I have more questions than answers. What do young women think about philanthropy? What motivates them? How do they perceive endowment building foundations? Do they wish to engage differently as donors? Do young women see our grantmaking priorities as relevant and effective? How is it that young women want to make an impact on the community?

One change is for certain. My focus needs to be less about my generation’s leadership and more about the transition of power to a younger generation. The overarching challenge in managing this change will be to conserve the core values that ought to transcend both generations.

Robert Thalhimer

Posted at 1:00 AM, Dec 04, 2008 in Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comments (1)


Thank you Bobby for your review. When I grow up, I want to be able to write like you!


Marianne Gordon

Posted by: Marianne Gordon