Jason Neises, Community Development Coordinator, Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque
The Iowa Council of Foundations connected us with the opportunity to present at Upswell Chicago, the annual summit organized by Independent Sector that brings together community organizers, philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, government officials, corporate responsibility professionals, and more – basically anyone working to make America a place where all can thrive. With over 1,500 people in attendance, the gathering offered many different ways to engage and learn, including pop-up “spark” conversations, in-depth workshops, inspiring keynote presentations, panel discussions, neighborhood tours, and much more.
The most noteworthy accomplishment I observed at the gathering was the diversity of voices they were able to bring to the table. People from all backgrounds, different sized organizations, and change-makers from all corners of the nation came together to share ideas about making philanthropy and community development work more meaningful and equitable for everyone. There was a big focus on “missing voices” and giving power to people who have been historically under-represented in philanthropic decision-making. I participated in some excellent sessions about racial equity strategies in philanthropy and building a culture of equity at our philanthropic organizations. These sessions provided wonderful opportunities for me to network with colleagues from across the country and benefit from their experiences and wisdom.
My session titled, “Building Rural & Urban Partnerships for a Stronger America” was organized by Paul Daugherty, President & CEO of Philanthropy West Virginia. My co-presenters were Brian Fogle, President & CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and Carolyn Saxton, President of the Legacy Foundation. All of our organizations have developed innovative ways to use deep, meaningful community engagement which gives rural residents a stronger voice in philanthropy.
Brian Fogle discussed the partnership his foundation has with the Missouri Health Foundation that created a new approach for rural grantmaking in Missouri and led to greater rural reach and impact. Carolyn Saxton discussed her organization’s On the Table project that connects different corners of her Indiana County to break bread and engage in conversation about ways to improve our communities. I introduced the community engagement tools the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque uses through Community Heart & Soul to reconnect people with what they love most about their small towns and how to translate those personal and emotional connections into a blueprint that serves as the foundation for future community decisions.
Workshop attendees from across the country had some insightful follow-up questions and we had a lively conversation about bridging the perceived “urban/rural divide.” We dove deeper on ways that we can regain control of the narrative (often controlled by the coastal media) about life in rural regions and tell positive stories about quality of life and rural vitality. We also discussed specific tools we all had used to get missing voices to the table and give them power in making decisions about the future of their rural communities.
The next Upswell convening will be held in Pittsburgh in October, 2020. There are some fellowships and other funding opportunities available, so I would encourage you to explore attending the next gathering and see what kinds of ideas and inspiration you can bring back to your Iowa communities. If you’d like to learn more about my experiences in Chicago, please contact me.