The Giving Conference: Recap and Update

Phil Cubeta’s update, two years after the Giving Conference, reposted here from the typepad original, An Open Letter to Peter Karoff:


I know from our recent conversation that you are planning a series of local, grassroots convening across the US to coincide with the publication of The World We Want. And, I know you are working on a proposal for funding. What might such a series of events cost, based on prior experience? Here are some real precedents.

In 2004 at the suggestion of Chris Corrigan, I proposed an Open Space Giving Conference to bloggers and friends. We met for several days in Chicago with Michael Herman as our local organizer and Open Space facilitator. I put up enough money, $1,325, non-deductible, to hire a room at Depaul University. Bliss Browne from Imagine Chicago (at the instigation of Michael Herman) took my check and turned it around to the University so we could get their non-profit rate. The facilitator passed the hat for donations and took in about $1,000 from the 43 people who attended. We all paid for our own meals lodging, and transportation. We had no speakers per se, though we all talked plenty. Those who lived in Chicago and had empty couches took in those who didn’t have money for hotels. We took turns buying donuts and gallons of coffee.

As you peruse the names you will see some familiar ones, well-known people in funder networks. They came not as funders, though, but as citizens. One asked me if he would be hit on for gifts, and I said, “Only if you come with Funder on your name tag. Why not just use the tag-line, ‘Active Citizen?'”

Jeff Weissglass, President as you know, of More than Money, was a key influencer. He gave me a very hard time over my apparent politics, asking if conservatives or (in essence) normal people would be welcome. He deplored the polarization of political discourse and said he would come only if we reached out to givers who might be my ideological opposite. I recognized he was completely correct. So, the list includes several who described themselves as our “token conservatives,” but in reality, politics in the ordinary sense was submerged in our shared conversations about giving, volunteering, and social good. We all got to be good friends, learning to see our differences in the context of shared collegiality. We all maybe even learned something from those with whom we might disagree most vehemently, were we sparring with strawmen.

What did we accomplish? Well, the Chicago meeting included Tom Munnecke, who had a long standing listserv to discuss giving. He invited his list and we invited our list from the Openspace to when it first opened. The giving space people remain active and have held a second, and soon a third, open space forum in Chicago around themes from  I am positive they would be honored if you attended. (I am grateful you contributed your Sleepwalkers essay to our first open space convening.)

Meanwhile the hubub of conversation continues. Chris Corrigan, in a comment to this post drawing some of these threads together at Wealth Bondage, suggests you could do 75 such open space convenings for $100,000. Someone would probably volunteer to set up a Civicspace portal to support it, and pull the conversations together, as each local group reports back on what they might do to agree upon and advance The World We Want in their local area.

Lessons learned? A little money goes a very long way when people are hungry for democracy. Just open a crack, give them an excuse, and don’t make it too fancy, or formal or stilted. A community foundation as an ally is great, and as a co-convener, but not all by themselves. Diversity of those attending is critical. This is not put on by the rich as largesse. It is the energy that comes upwards from many people wanting to contribute for the greater good. By having several local co-conveners each can hash out the final invitation and pass it along to his or her own list, with a cover note. The Open Space rules apply: “Whoever comes are the right people;” “The Rule of Two Feet: walk out and around as you see fit.” And, “It ends when it is over.” The rules create buzzing chaos as the agenda evolves from whomever shows up. The meeting ends without anything having been decided or finished. A portal on which to list the invitation for each city, participants, topics discussed, photos from the meeting and topics for further conversation, spaces for participants to set up free blogs, a database of all participants, and private messaging among participants would be great. (All are available in Civicspace.)  Podcasts from local conveners might be fun.

Finally, local “ownership” is essential. The driving force is the one “on the ground” in the local community who finds the space, talks it up among a few key influencers, and talks them into finalizing the agenda and emailing it around. It may be that Open Space facilitators, like Chris Corrigan and Michael Herman, could be among the ring-leaders. Giving people the freedom and encouragement to make the meeting their own is critical if they are to “buy in.” The World We Want is one in which we are active citizens, not just spectators or guests, much less subordinates.



Posted by Phil Cubeta in About the World We Want | Permalink

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